Wearing large headphones connected to Kurda’s mic, we listened to the sounds of fish as the ice melted around them. Later that afternoon, we huddled in bird hides overlooking the reeds and waters of Clifton Pond, watching warblers, cormorants and grebes while reflecting on our own journeys and writing down our thoughts and feelings.

This was part of the ‘Voice Notes’ project, an international creative writing and sound arts project working with displaced communities. Introducing young refugees and asylum seekers to a range of writing, listening and spoken word activities, participants from Nottingham had the opportunity to attend workshops at New Art Exchange and Attenborough Nature Reserve in order to connect with their local communities and landscapes, explore advanced sound technologies, and develop new skills in creative writing.

During the project, participants wrote and performed their stories through the medium of the telephone message. These messages form part of an interactive sound exhibition coming to Nottingham in April.

‘I have learned to listen, and to do active listening,’ one participant said. ‘I love this group so much and thanks […] for the chance to express my feelings and my thoughts.’ Several of the participants especially enjoyed the sound recording activities, with one noting ‘I hope that in the future, we will see something like that again.’ Describing the experience as ‘amazing,’ another participant reflected: ‘I love the connections that I made here with people. I learnt how to listen to other stories. I learnt how to build trust within a short period of time.’ ‘I can’t wait for the exhibition,’ he added.

‘Voice Notes’ endeavours to provide a safe and supportive environment in which to nurture young voices from displaced communities, helping them to cultivate new modes of creative self-expression through writing, performing, and listening. The team is committed to a spirit of creative co-production, in which participants become collaborators, taking an active role in shaping the outputs, which include an interactive audio exhibition and a mobile app.

The project is led by Dr Sarah Jackson from Nottingham Trent University, in collaboration with refugee arts charity Compass Collective and sound artist Hardi Kurda. The project is supported by Counterpoints Arts, New Art Exchange, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Refugee Roots, Slemani UNESCO City of Literature and STEP. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Following events and performances at Space21 Festival in Slemani, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, ‘Voice Notes’ will be exhibited at New Art Exchange in Nottingham from 18 April to 4 May 2024.

To find out more, please visit https://www.nae.org.uk/event/voice-notes/