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Theatre of Sanctuary

In 2018, Opera North became the first opera company in the UK to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status. The accolade recognises the steps being taken by organisations to ensure refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the city feel included, valued and celebrated through increased accessibility to the arts.


Being a Theatre of Sanctuary is a continuous responsibility and, through our ongoing work with refugees and sanctuary seekers in Leeds and surrounding areas, we look to ensure everyone can enjoy the life-enhancing benefits which music and performance can bring.

“Over the years, Opera North have gone above and beyond to ensure that people who have fled to the UK from war and persecution have found sanctuary and welcome. They have reached out into communities to ensure the many joys of the opera can be experienced by all, including those who too often find themselves isolated and excluded from much of society.”

– Mary Brandon, City of Sanctuary

Sanctuary through Partnership

Our Encore Scheme engages with community groups and organisations working with people who have barriers which prevent them from engaging fully with the arts. Members are offered free or heavily subsidised tickets to both mainstage performances and those in the Howard Assembly Room, workshops, taster performances and bespoke events.

We currently have 19 refugee and asylum seeker groups in the scheme. Each year, we also ensure that some of these organisations become our Encore Plus Partners for the following twelve months, a position which provides additional opportunities for collaborative working.

Whistle Stop Opera being performed at St. Augustine's, one of Opera North's 2021 Community Partners

Sanctuary through Performance

We are committed to giving refugees and sanctuary seekers a voice, with the Howard Assembly Room in particular providing a stage for people from different cultures.

As part of the 2021 Platforma Festival, we held a Theatre of Sanctuary Open Mic Night which focused on the talents of musicians with experience of migration. Headlined by Stone Flowers, a collective of musicians who have fled conflict, it featured compelling performances from the refugee and asylum seeker community in and around Leeds.

Sanctuary seekers from our Encore Plus Partners were also invited to take part in People’s Lullabies. Each person performed a song which held a special meaning for them, with the resulting films being screened to the participant groups at a special event and becoming a permanent part of our Lullaby Project online.


The Theatre of Sanctuary Open Mic Night in the Howard Assembly Room was designed to give a voice to those displaced from home © Justin Slee

Sanctuary through Creativity

By providing opportunities for creative expression, we are looking to recognise the incredible skills that people carry with them across borders.

As part of the Writing Home project which created a musical trail for the Howard Opera Centre, Opera North’s redeveloped home in Leeds, musicians Christella Litras and Leroy Johnson worked with a group of refugee and sanctuary seekers in Wakefield. Together they composed and recorded the song ‘Home is a Feeling’. The participants came up with the theme that home is less a structure and more to do with the love of those around you, and contributed solo sections in their own languages.

“When I started the workshop I felt very down but after attending my mood completely changed. At home we use music to meditate and think and this made me feel like that.”

– Participant, Writing Home, Refugee Council


Sanctuary through Sharing

To enable staff to gain a greater understanding of sanctuary seeking in the UK, we have held awareness sessions where leaders of sanctuary support organisations have shared their knowledge and contacts, bringing members of the sanctuary seeking community happy to share their stories with us. Subsequent skills sharing has included engaging freelance musicians to provide accompaniment on new compositions, and our Marketing team offering their expertise to build audience engagement for a drama project.

Opera North also leads Arts Together, a city-wide network of arts and community organisations working towards making the arts accessible to all. This includes sharing expertise and best practice among the members, as well as providing an online guide of welcoming and inspiring arts events.

Celebrating community and arts at the Arts Together Summer Party © Tom Arber

Andrew, Trustee at St. Augustine’s Centre, Halifax:

“All of us at St Augustine’s really appreciate what Opera North has done and continues to do for people seeking sanctuary in Yorkshire. The performances, workshops, recording sessions and the Open Mic night have been wonderful experiences for our centre members and those of us around them and close to them, giving them an opportunity to participate, learn, listen and perform but more importantly to be made welcome, to be part of a creative community, to be enriched and inspired.

“Opera North is truly a Theatre of Sanctuary. Thank you from all us.”


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