Refugee Week 2019 saw the North East based songwriting project Stories of Sanctuary draw in hundreds of new audience members on the first leg of their UK tour, as they visited Yorkshire (22 and 23 June 2019). Stories of Sanctuary visited the Migration Matters Festival in Sheffield as well as the University of Hull, one of the first ‘Universities of Sanctuary’ universities supporting those seeking sanctuary from war.

Stories of Sanctuary performing at the Migration Matters Festival at Theatre Deli, Sheffield, featuring singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher, viola player Raghad Haddad, The Sanctuary Seekers Choir, poet Hasna Al Hassoun and conductor Amy Ward (from left to right). Photo credit: Simone Rudolphi.

Stories of Sanctuary performing at the Migration Matters Festival at Theatre Deli, Sheffield, featuring singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher, viola player Raghad Haddad, The Sanctuary Seekers Choir, poet Hasna Al Hassoun and conductor Amy Ward (from left to right). Photo credit: Simone Rudolphi.

The choir, made up of young people from Syria, West Africa and Central America, sang original songs about their experiences of seeking sanctuary in the North East of England. The group includes vocalists, a guitarist, a percussionist and a viola player – Raghad Haddad – from the National Syrian Orchestra who have all fled from various conflicts across the world.

The weekend coincides with Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival of arts, cultural and educational events, celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK and promoting a better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

For some in the choir, it was there first experience of performing on the stage. For Hadi, a 16 year old from Syria who has been a refugee since the age of 10, the tour was the first time he’d performed and he opened the concert playing the drums. For Aisha from Guinea Bissau, the tour made her realise that acting and singing is the future she wishes to pursue:

“Telling stories, putting people together from different backgrounds to tell their stories, sharing their experiences, it’s the most beautiful thing”

Soloist Aisha performing a song she helped write called ‘Paradise’. Photo credit: Simone Rudolphi

The project began in the city of Durham in the summer of 2018, curated by Durham singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher. Sam was a volunteer with City of Sanctuary at the time and believed the creative potential of the group could go along way. Through an Arts Council grant, Stories of Sanctuary was formed and a year later the group have now performed over 7 times, attracting hundreds of people each time.

The songs the group have written include ‘Let Us Be Together’ that includes the lyrics from Homs poet Hasna Al Hassoun, who lives in exile in County Durham fleeing Syria in 2012 after losing her family and her legs in the war.

The Yorkshire tour was not only about the music. It was a chance to visit a city the group would otherwise not have chance to come to and join in with one of the UK’s biggest Refugee festivals, The Migration Matters Festival, in its 4th year of running. Hasna’s sister Sabah Al Hassoun who also sings, coordinators the tour logistics, alongside Durham University student Beth. Sabah says “on the tour, we were hosted by local Sheffield residents. We were welcomed with warm hearts”. Conductor Amy Ward, resident of Durham, describes the impact of the project:

“Though we grew up in places far apart, in different cultures and with different languages, music crosses the boundaries those differences create. Music helps what we share come to the fore; and that’s not just true within the group, but also with the audiences who hear the songs, and those who have been kind enough to host and open their homes and community spaces to us, and share with us in turn”

Funds for the tour have been fundraised through a successful Crowdfund Campaign last winter by the group. The tour continues at the International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge on August 26th and Leicester Cathedral on August 27th. Visit our Tour page for more information on upcoming performances.

The group relaxing on Sunday morning between their Sheffield and Hull performances, after being hosted for lunch by Hull Help for Refugees. Photo credit: Simone Rudolphi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *