Planning Refugee Week Norwich 2023 (June 19 – 25): And so it begins…
6th March 2023
Last week I began to turn my attention to Refugee Week planning – learning more about ‘the week’, who is involved, what has gone before and crucially what we would like to happen going forwards.
The week’s aim is to build safe, inclusive and resilient communities, through bringing about more informed and welcoming attitudes towards Refugees and Asylum Seekers. We want to tell stories, increase positive social contacts, and gather more support for ongoing inclusion work. For those who are new to the field, we aim to grow an understanding of the international and local pictures, the reasons for displacement and movement of people(s), rights, and the structural injustices and barriers faced. For those who already have involvement it is simply a celebration, a chance to share learning and develop connections. For everyone, it’s a chance to see how we as individuals can make a difference the aim of bringing about more inclusion, in whatever way is available to us; through our attitudes and conversations, by donating time, skills, items in demand (men’s shoes, old bikes, books in other languages etc.), or underpinning it all by considering consistent financial giving.
On Monday I went to the national Refugee Week planning event at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. It was wonderful to meet with such a diverse and passionate group of organisers, to meet Counterpoint Arts who pull together the week across the UK, and even to connect with our very own, inspirational Norwich City of Sanctuary, Schools Stream Coordinator, Jake!
The day involved networking and uplifting successes, learning about the Theory of Change, workshops (especially around forming new partnerships), good discussions and learning from each other, especially about future directions, and definitely not least an outstanding meal made by the Syrian Sunflower Kitchen.
The key conference themes which stood out to me were –
- There is no one ‘Refugee story’, as Refugees are not a single group. All stories have a right to be told and heard
- It’s vital that Refugees, Asylum Seekers and migrants are the foundation of the week, involved from the planning level, catered to in the events, locations, access considerations and legacies of everything which is done in the week (for in reality it’s just one week to illustrate an ongoing situation – and invitation to help deliver ongoing services for ongoing needs). The hope is that this will lead on to greater involvement in Leadership roles.
- Refugee Week is for EVERYBODY – and we should try to reach out to all; especially in areas we have previously given less attention, such as to where our participants are based, to local opinion formers, and to less engaged audiences
- Protecting the pride in and value of the word ‘Refugee’.
- Change is made through Arts and Culture, but also through sports, education, media and campaigns (I just learned about #LiftTheBan for example, which may interest some of you)
Back in Norwich, I facilitated the first New Routes participants-led advisory group for planning Refugee Week events, specific local aims, and legacy. The group truly represented the Norwich audiences for Refugee Week, in our opinion – Asylum Seekers, economic migrants, those naturalised, Refugees, and the established local community too. Again, Refugee Week is for everybody!
The group’s thoughts were framed within a wider discussion around inclusion and how to progress towards more of it. They expressed their yearning to get more involved in the ‘settled community’ around them, to meet locals, to get experiences and insight into opportunities for the future locally, and particularly to contribute and ‘give something back’ – to be as much part of Norwich life as anyone else.
I was invited into one of the main accommodation buildings that so many Asylum Seekers call home – to experience the conditions, activities and aspirations there – to meet people, chat, play, eat, and create together.
We discussed hard things, we discussed joyful things, small and also imposing things… we came back to the group’s deep desire to have more integration with the local established community. “Please we need more of this, to meet with local people, to help and contribute”. They had big ideas – things which will be difficult, things which will take adjustments outside of comfort zones, but all things which need to be tackled.
This week also saw the first training session for New Routes volunteers with lived experience, led by Volunteer Coordinator Richard. As their time, capacity and circumstances allow some trainees will volunteer with us, and some for other local organisations. We are about to pilot an initiative for some of this group to volunteer with a local businesses to gain UK work experience and references, and to utilise participants’ particular skills.
As for my Refugee Week journey, for all the inspiration right now I must concentrate on funding. As someone at the conference said, ‘It’s not all about funding of course… but, well, it is all about the funding!”
(Development & Communications Coordinator, New Routes)
Posted in: News