Refugee Week is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK. Ahead of Bradford’s contribution, taking place from the 15th to the 23rd June, we spoke to Deb Collett, Project Coordinator at Artworks Creative Communities, all about this year’s line-up, which includes a film showing and exhibition at Bradford Cathedral.
Can you explain a little of what Bradford Refugee Week is all about?
Refugee Week is a national event. It has a two-fold purpose: firstly to celebrate the contribution that refugees make to our society, and have done over millennia, and secondly to raise awareness of some of the reasons why some people find it necessary to flee their country of origin and seek sanctuary, and also some of the issues that refugees face in their lives here as well. In Bradford we’ve whole-heartedly embraced it to the best of our ability. It’s an organisation that runs on a lot of goodwill. We don’t have an established organisation that says yay or nay to what people can do, rather it’s a collection of people who spread the word as best we can and encourage as many organisations – refugee-led, service-providers, communities that may not necessarily have many refugees in them at all – but everybody to get on board and put something on that acknowledges that it’s Refugee Week and it’s worth doing.
Is the City of Sanctuary status something that’s important for Bradford to have?
Yes, it is. It underpins an ethos, and that has also spread. We’ve also got a number of schools of sanctuary. A particular thing we like to do at the launch of Refugee Week is promoting the schools that are awarded the sanctuary status to mark all the hard work they’ve done. That’s our flagship bit!
As we write this, the political landscape for refugees is still a hot topic – is this week important as a rebuttal to some political stances?
Absolutely. We’ve discussed about the importance of the printed programme and how widely it is distributed. I am of the belief that it’s really important that we get the word out to as many as people as we can. Obviously our first priority is to ensure refugees, and the people that support them, know what is available but my view is very much that we need it to be high profile, big and bold, and we need that publicity and that awareness that it’s happening to go into places where people might not like the fact that there is a Refugee Week. But I think it’s important that they know it’s happening whether they like it or not!
Could you give us a flavor of what is happening during the week?
What organisations are putting on is so fantastic. I’m really pleased that the libraries are on board this year and they’ve shifted their focus during the week to a lot of the story times and craft times, which is great. They’re coming to the final day – The Great Get-Together in Peel Park on Saturday 22nd June – and bringing a whole raft of things to try and encourage refugee families to get involved with the summer reading challenges and the sort of things that are sometimes difficult to get involved with if English isn’t your first language, and you’re not familiar with the city, so we’re really proud about that. There are also the things you’d expect: some people are having parties; there’s the BEACON sponsored walk. But this year we’ve got more of a questioning, political edge as well. The Bradford Palestine Solidarity Campaign are putting on a meeting that’s about child detention. We’ve not really grasped the nettle about some of those issues [so this will be a great opportunity to do so].
I’m also really pleased that we have a cracking film programme, not least ‘The Dream of Shahrazad’ here at the Cathedral, which is going to be so gorgeous in this venue. I don’t think there’ll be a dry eye in the house that’s for sure! There won’t be a spirit that won’t be uplifted, or a brow that isn’t furrowed. We’ll have the whole gamut!
We’ve also got the first showing in the whole country of ‘Gaza’, a fabulous documentary that looks at people living in Gaza as it is, done with real skill, understanding and finesse. I think that’s going to be a really popular film.
We’re also particularly pleased to be working with the Sudanese community in Bradford and presenting a film called ‘Beats of the Antonov’ that’s about resistance through traditional music to constant bombing, which will be quite a challenging watch but it’s going to be good as we’ll have discussions and learn more about the Sudanese community, who’ll have a platform to explain more about the situation in their home country. It’s going to be great!
What message would you give to refugees and their families to encourage them to come along?
I think that’s the message – come along! Lots of the things that are going to be the most popular have been organised by refugee support groups and refugee-led groups, so they will be generating the major interest, and others will come too I hope. Our biggest event will be the final day which is going to be absolutely jam-packed with things to do, for all the family: sports, crafts, bike-riding events, food, the usual henna, mehndi and face-painting. It’ll be an absolute delight in Peel Park, and we’re really pleased to team up with community groups on the festival this year.
Refugee week is now incredibly soon, and that’s really exciting!
You can find out more about the week by visiting facebook.com/BradRefugeeWeek or by picking up a programme in the Cathedral. ‘The Dream of Shahrazad’ is on June 20th at 7pm (Pay what you feel) and the ‘Burma, Bangladesh, Bradford: A Celebration of Integration’ exhibition runs from June 17th – 22nd.