OFFERING PLACES OF – SANCTUARY FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS: BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE

A lot of us struggle to adjust to new seasons in life and business as we age, we feel unsure and have periods of instability. Especially when it comes to running an enterprise.

We look back with rose-tinted glasses and social media ‘memories’ don’t help either as they are often a collection of images that gloss over the grit of reality. 

Even birthdays can feel stressful with so many options available to us to mark another year of life and more responsibilities. 

With 35-44 year-olds tending to be the most ‘stressed out’ in the UK due to work, health, and a range of other issues including housing and finance.

Can you imagine, however, fleeing a war-torn country and finding yourself in situations where your life is at risk at home?

While our issues are relative, appreciation for having such choices can help to allay stress.

We may have ‘distanced’ ourselves from such realities facing asylum seekers in the past, but with the abhorrent war in Ukraine, it is much closer to home. Finally, people are united in ‘relating’ to human beings who find themselves in such a hellish reality. 

More optimistically however are the ‘olive branches’ that pioneering folk from Yorkshire have offered to those seeking sanctuary before the media coverage of this disaster. 

Sheffield was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, Leeds which is now also a City of Sanctuary plays host to the UK’s first Theatre of Sanctuary Leeds Playhouse and Wakefield has the first Studio of Sanctuary at The Arthouse, as well as Theatre Royal Wakefield who has become a Theatre of Sanctuary. 

It’s easy to take these venues for granted as we busily scurry past, but actually, inside contain life-changing offerings. 

Such cultural hubbubs have not only created accessible activities for a range of people from marginalised backgrounds, but they actively offer a welcome to refugees and Asylum Seekers who are part of our community, our family. 

It’s one thing to build a bridge between English-speaking locals and these cultural institutes but how do they cater for many of those seeking asylum when English isn’t their first language?  

Particularly as many people’s lives can be transient as these human beings have no choice but to be ‘dispersed’ across the UK. Fortunately, places of sanctuary can offer some respite and hope. 

As drama practitioner Gemma Whelan explained that ‘play’ is a universal language. Much like dance, art, and creative story-telling. 

Gemma, who works for the Theatre Royal in Wakefield which runs the Conversation Cafe, said: “I’ve had the rare and wonderful joy of working alongside families who are new to the country that I call home. 

“As a drama practitioner the core of the work I do is using play and storytelling to explore the ‘now’ we find ourselves standing in and I was tentative, to begin with as I didn’t want to press any bruises and exploit any heartache. I needn’t have worried as play is a universal language one understood the world over and offers moments of reprise. There is freedom and release found in joy.”

The theatre has created such a ‘place to belong’ for the new locals that despite the chaotic nature of their reality, many people escape this uncertainty temporarily with the anchor of this Theatre of Sanctuary. 

Gemma added: “I could talk about the heartbreak and harrowing experiences the people I work with have endured but that’s their story to tell not mine. So I will leave you with the moment that I was stood with a young man from Sudan who came to the session on his 17th birthday and when I asked if he’s had any special plans, he’s said ‘this is my special plan, you are all my family, this is home, here with you all.’

As I finish writing this while watching BBC News on loop as the situation evolves, I look up to see a mother’s video of her daughter’s birthday being celebrated underground in Ukraine.

As I soon mark another year of life I no longer feel overwhelmed by emotions thinking of what I should have been doing by now in my life, instead, I count my blessings.

Perspective and pauses can help us to reanalyse our own situation.

Read more from Sophie at https://communitymedianetwork.co.uk

Photo: Yorkshire artist Panni Loh has created cards all proceeds going to Ukraine – Contact panni@panniloh.com

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