Into the Blue: Autumn and Winter 2017/8

“That was by far the most profound and touching community project I have ever had the privilege of encountering.” SAIMA KAUR, Audience Member

Like many other towns and cities across the UK Halifax is home to a number of refugee and asylum-seeker families who have been forced to leave their homeland and find sanctuary elsewhere. Many of these people (including their children) are struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what has happened to them: the harrowing journeys, the strange new language and culture: the political uncertainty many families live with on a daily basis. Building on our work with Afghan boys Naj and Bashir, we wanted to see if our creative approach could offer some solace to these families, and to see if helping them share their story with a wider audience could impact positively on their sense of ‘belonging’.

We began by working with staff at Beech Hill Primary School – who we have developed a successful working relationship with. We set up a small group for refugee parents who have children attending the school. Sharon from verd de gris spent time with this group initially gaining trust and listening to their stories, their fears and concerns, in a bid to gain a greater understanding of how their lives had been so dramatically changed. The sessions were mainly reminiscence but Sharon researched Kurdish song / music and brought these in to share.

At the same time, we met with staff and students at Calder High School CHS who had expressed an interest in our ‘5000 Miles’ project work. Teaching staff wanted to develop something similarly creative with us around the theme of ‘migration’. We brought their group of Yr 10 students to meet with Naj & Bashir – to explore opportunities for collaboration. Both parties had a strong interest in music and recorded sound. The ‘5000 Miles’ soundscape became a starting point for creative exchange.

We also began working with Performing Arts students at Calderdale College, building on an existing links we had established with the College in Yr II. We were interested in weaving together different creative elements and began by inviting some of the refugee families from Beech Hill into the College to meet the drama students. The students took inspiration from this meeting and the refugees’ memories and stories and began to work with us on devising a performance piece telling a story of migration and ‘flight from fear’. Creative director Sharon Marsden, choreographer Natalie Speake and cellist Helen Thatcher then rehearsed with the school and college students to devise a performance piece which we hoped would ‘connect’ an audience with the refugees’ experiences.

As part of our outreach work we approached a number of local organisations that support refugees and asylum seekers, inviting them to join us for the performance event at Square Chapel Arts. However, building an audience for the piece was exceptionally difficult. None of the refugees who came to see the final piece had any experience or understanding of ‘theatre’ or knew what to expect. We are very grateful to Calderdale College ESOL staff who took a risk and brought many young refugees to watch the performance.

The final performance took place at Square Chapel Arts in November 2017 to a packed audience. The College students performed to a backing soundtrack devised by the CHS students. Cellist Helen Thatcher provided a ‘live’ element to the soundscape. The performance was followed by a Q&A led by Sharon from verd de gris. Thoughts and feedback were gathered through monitoring forms and questionnaires.

What people said about ‘Into the Blue’:

“What an amazing performance. Thank you so much for inviting me. Truly humbling and very thought provoking. Well done to everyone and of course to Verd de Gris.”
Chris Harris, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire

“I never go to the Theatre, I came because my daughter worked with you in 5000 miles – she has talked to us all about your project and you. She is inspired, I wanted to see for myself. I brought my older daughter to show her what amazing things can be done in the world – she loves art and for her to see how art can be used for the good of others is wonderful. We think your work is amazing. I dont know how to thank you for this experience for me and my family. We will never forget the lessons we have learnt about refugees and the sadness they have to endure.”
Naeema Hussain (Audience)

“I feel better working with Sharon – my heart so happy now. before it was so bad, my heart so sad, but speaking with you and you show other people our story. Me so happy working with Sharon because I feel and can think more happy. Before it was so bad, didn’t want to speak with people, couldn’t cope with noise and voices. All too loud, around me. Didn’t want go out. But now not sad because Sharon made story of my life and showed the people and they understand, they good people. They understand that I have many problems with my life. Now I feel very very better because I have a friend like Sharon. She helped me and my family. she helped me forget my problems and my pain.”
Refugee Family Member

This work is part of Creative Communities, an outreach programme led by Square Chapel in partnership with verd de gris Ltd and Orange Box young people’s centre, using the arts as a tool to bring about changes in people’s lives. Creative Communities is supported with a grant from The National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund.

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