We have all heard of the suffering of the great numbers of refugees trying to reach Europe from war-torn or impoverished countries and the desperate situations they have encountered. In spite of the best efforts of reporters, it is hard for us to fully understand the details of these people’s lives in their home countries, as they flee, and even after they have reached safety. Once here, they often endure long delays while their asylum applications are processed, together with loneliness, isolation, and poverty.
I became interested in the ideas and practice of writing groups for refugees initially as a result of supporting the Freedom from Torture organisation in London, which (amongst the many therapies and services it provides) has a very strong and successful writing group, known as Write to Life. I also visited the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum recently, who gave me a great deal of very helpful information.
There is a great deal happening in Nottingham in this field. Since 2016, Writing East Midlands has been running the Write Here: Sanctuary project in Nottingham, Leicester and Derby, (funded by the Paul Hamlyn and Rayne foundations) which has engaged over 140 refugees and asylum-seekers in creative writing activity. Their work has been collated into an anthology, Riding on Solomon’s Carpet, which will be published shortly. Funding has now been received from the Santander foundation to continue this work and develop it in new areas, particularly with younger writers. In Nottingham, Rich Goodson and Leanne Moden led a group of women refugee and asylum-seekers (in partnership with Women’s Cultural Exchange) in creative writing work. This culminated in a wonderful event at the recent Nottingham Poetry Festival. Rich is working on a project for Writing East Midlands, which will act as a ‘best-practice toolkit’ in this context, comprising some workshop examples and practical ways in which other organisations might build work in this area. The toolkit will be presented at the NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) conference later this year.
For more information on all these activities, please see http://www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/services/17655-2/.
Another project Rich has worked on has been the Word Jam, a collective of poets and musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds, which has been going for some years. This has just received Lottery funding so will be able to develop further in future months.
So there has been a lot of activity here in the last few years, and there will be much more to come! So please visit the Writing East Midlands website, and also watch this space! We hope to provide updates in the future as these projects and others develop, and perhaps also to include examples of writing by the refugees themselves.