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Celebrating Refugee Week in Leeds

Arts organisations across Leeds are preparing to mark Refugee Week, which runs from Monday 17 June, with a host of events celebrating one of the most marginalised communities in society.

Refugee Week was launched in 1998 in a bid to encourage a better understanding of the benefits sanctuary brings to both refugees and host communities through a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events. In Leeds, Arts Together, the recently-formed collaboration between the city’s arts and community organisations, is co-ordinating a range of activities which explore the meaning of displacement and exile as experienced by those living in Yorkshire. There will also be a selection of events designed exclusively for refugees and asylum seekers resident in the city.

Theatre of Sanctuary Get-together at Leeds Playhouse © Anthony Robling

Choices include exhibitions, performances, workshops, art projects and street parties. Refugees’ Voices: Past and Present at Leeds Central Library showcases art by refugees and asylum seekers, as well as highlighting refugee stories discovered in the city’s archives. At a workshop led by Bradford-based group BIASAN (Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Advice and Support Network), new artwork will be created as participants work together on a mural inspired by the word ‘Journeys’ as part of the annual Arts & Minds exhibition.

On a similar theme, Mafwa Theatre are hosting a performance called To & Fro by a group of women exploring the journeys they undertake as they navigate the city. Other shows include the award-winning The Chef Show hosted by Slung Low at its community venue, The Holbeck, and Freedom Studios’ Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile which Red Ladder Theatre Company is touring on their community touring circuit of non-traditional venues. The critically acclaimed production focuses on the life of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar, best-known for writing Rita, Sue and Bob Too with free tickets available for refugee and asylum-seekers during Refugee Week.

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile © Freedom Studios

Those in a party mood should make their way to Wakefield where the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle will be holding a celebratory street party with food, art, music and performance focused on artist Huma Bhabha’s new public sculpture commission in the city centre. Arts without Borders: A Party for Refugees and their Allies is being held by Open Source Arts at Aire Place Mills, and South Asian Arts-uk Summer Solstice Celebrations will take place at Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton at the end of the week.

The city’s two Theatres of Sanctuary have organised free events specifically for refugees and asylum seekers. On the Tuesday, Opera North is running a People’s Lullabies session at Leeds Refugee Forum’s One Community Centre. Led by South African singer Thandanani Gumede and accompanist Dave Evans, it will encourage refugees and asylum-seekers to learn, share and sing songs together. This will be followed on the Friday by a drop-in singing session for women and children presented by Asmarina Voices at Leeds Playhouse, a women’s choir founded on the power of the arts to bring people together and enhance lives.

Thandanani Gumede at a Q&A session following his Resonance work in progress performance © Jonny Walton

Arts Together was established in April this year, and already numbers over 50 arts and community partners. To mark Refugee Week, the next Arts Together meeting will include a refugee awareness session hosted by BIASAN to increase understanding among all the arts organisations of the challenges faced by refugee and asylum-seekers in Yorkshire.

Mussarat Rahan from BIASAN comments:

“The awareness raising session has been designed using my own experiences of working with, and delivering multiple projects with, refugees and asylum seekers. I hope that it will educate and inform people who are keen to work with vulnerable groups and provide them with some practical ways of having a positive impact.”

A list of the events taking place during Refugee Week with booking details can be found on Leeds Inspired.

Arts Together is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and welcomes applications from any arts organisations or community groups based in and around Leeds. Please contact for more information.



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