This June, for the first time, Swindon will see a whole week of events taking place across the town in celebration of Refugee Week, a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK, and encourages better understanding between communities.
Swindon City of Sanctuary is organising and hosting the week along with The Harbour Project, Voluntary Action Swindon and Swindon & Marlborough Amnesty, with events happening in schools, colleges, galleries, music venues and community spaces across Swindon throughout the week of 19 – 25 June, and a few days either side.
“Refugee Week is a fantastic opportunity for all communities in Swindon to unite, celebrate, and enjoy themselves” says Kate Hudson, who is involved in coordinating the week of events. “We hope that by drawing local communities together, we will be able to bust a few myths about the issue of asylum seekers and immigration in a positive and playful way.”
The week kicks off on Saturday 17 June with the ‘Great Get Together’, a street party at the Central Community Centre in Emlyn Square, which is also part of a national series of events to bring communities together to celebrate what we have in common with each other, in honour of Jo Cox MP. This is a free event with live music and food for sale.
The next event will be on international Refugee Day, which is Tuesday 20th June, where local refugees and asylum seekers will be joined by friends from The Harbour Project and Swindon City of Sanctuary live on air at Swindon 105.5 community radio station, from 10-11am.
This is followed by ‘The New Union Flag: A Shared Future’, an Art Exhibition and Private View at Artsite, featuring the work of internationally celebrated artist Gil Mualem Doron, on the evening of Wednesday 21 June, ‘Sanctuary Soiree’ with speakers, cocktails and music at Darkroom Espresso on Thursday 22 June, ‘Friday Film & Performance Evening’, showing the fantastic ‘Queens of Syria’ and live Kurdish and Sudanese music at Central Community Centre on Friday 23 June.
Moving into the weekend, on Saturday 24th June ‘Gatecrash Street Art’, a mix of theatre and singing at 11am will take place in the Town Centre, along with Swindon’s new ‘pop-up choir’. The main event, ‘The Global Tea Party’, will then take place from 1pm-4pm at Christ Church Community Centre in Old Town.
For the night-owls the ‘Saturday Night Music & More’ will be running from 5.30pm – 11.30pm at The Beehive, a mix of brilliant local bands and featuring Curtis Arnold-Harmer from Xhibit Theatre performing extracts from Xhibit’s latest piece, ‘Asylum’, and to close the weekend ‘Sunday Sessions’, a heady mix of music and song, will take place on Sunday 25 June from 12-3pm in Central Library courtyard.
Most of the events are free to attend, with the exception of the Friday Night Film & Performance, which costs only £5. However, the group is also raising funds through Local Giving to help cover costs of the events. To donate, please visit – https://localgiving.org/appeal/swindoncos/
For more information about all of the events including booking details, and to find out more about Swindon City of Sanctuary itself, please see their website – http://swindon.cityofsanctuary.org/events/refugee-week. You can also follow all of the events on Facebook at - https://www.facebook.com/events/460140404334530/
On Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 June ‘The Scar Test’, a play written by award-winning writer Hannah Kahlil, a powerful and disturbing snapshot of life inside the infamous Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and performed by the highly acclaimed Untold Arts will also take place at The Bohemian Balcony, the new arts venue housed in the old Palladium in Rodbourne. Tickets for this can be bought via – https://www.bohemianbalcony.com
In addition to the public events above, Swindon City of Sanctuary is proud to be working with local schools and New College on various projects throughout the week, especially workshops being run by Gil Mualem Doron, where he will extend the ideas from the installation he is creating at Artsite on Wednesday 21st June. Gil who has exhibited work at the Saatchi gallery and has run workshops at Tate Modern, aims to create a new kind of Union Flag which questions; Who are we? Who gets to decide?
Nicola Johnson, Development Worker for Swindon City of Sanctuary says, “We are really excited to have Gil on board for Refugee Week. He has a very tight schedule but is delighted to be coming to Swindon”.
Gil will also be working with local artists Paul Exton and Rachel Pryor, who run workshops for asylum seekers at The Harbour Project. “None of us can choose where we are born, and if my country was at war I'm sure I would want to reach a safe place if I had any choice. When you can't express yourself using language, art can enable you to express your feelings, hopes, dreams and memories visually” Rachel says.
Swindon City of Sanctuary are bowled over by the number of local people and organisations who have been volunteering to participate and support the week’s events and in particular would like to say thank you to: The Harbour Project, Swindon & Marlborough Amnesty, Voluntary Action Swindon, Artsite, the United Lunch Club from Broadgreen Community Centre, the Swindon Interfaith Committee, Swindon Quakers, the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, Christchurch Community Centre, Darkroom Espresso, The Beehive, Gatecrash Theatre, Swindon’s Pop-up Choir, Los Gatos, the Bohemian Balcony, Swindon Schools, New College, and countless local musicians and performers and many more.
“It’s been wonderful working with and as part of Swindon City of Sanctuary, on Refugee Week this year’ says Annie Vickers, Administrator for The Harbour Project, “I can’t wait for the party to start!”
Perhaps the focus of the week should be Rachel’s words ‘None of us can choose where we are born’ and those of a local asylum seeker: ‘People are kind in Swindon. I want to give something back to the people who have made me feel safe again’.
Refugee Week is the UK's largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting understanding of why people seek sanctuary.
2017’s theme ‘Different Pasts, Shared Future' celebrates the great things Britain's different communities have built together and looks forward to a future enriched by everyone who calls the UK home. Hundreds of organisations and individuals across the country will be holding cultural and educational events with audiences expected in their tens of thousands.