There is a story behind every journey of a person seeking safety, this journey is hard and can be traumatic, but it does not end when arriving at the country of refuge as one thinks. When a refugee arrives to the UK, a new journey starts, a difficult one. Not only that the person must carry all that they went through in the previous journey, but the struggles and disappointment in this new chapter are far more painful. Being an asylum seeker is not easy, there are so many obstacles that refugees go through in the country of refuge, which not so many are aware of.
One of the most valuable projects I am working on is a writing and photography workshop, in partnership with “You see me, but I don’t exist” project. I am sure that every day, each one of us will cross paths with a refugee or an asylum seeker, but have we ever thought about their story? Do we really know them? Do we know about the struggles they face as asylum seekers in the UK?
The project began as a way to help refugee friends share their experiences and journeys through unidentifiable images, which would be added to the National Gallery showcase, but when Jenny Christensson (Documentary Researcher, Writer, and Curator), and Alan Gignoux (Award-winning Documentary Photographer and Founder of Gignoux Photos) read the book of poetry and creative writing from our refugee friends, “Home is a feeling, not a place”, they really loved it, and the idea of creating a blended creative writing and photography workshop was born.
Would you like to purchase ‘Home is a feeling not a place’?
Alan began by taking unidentifiable pictures of refugee friends in a place of their own choice and refugee friends started attending the writing workshops to craft their own story, creative writing, or poetry; which will accompany their picture. Refugee friends chose to be photographed in a place they value or have a special memory of. Someone wanted to be photographed at Wembley stadium, someone else in front of a church, and another one in front of a police station. The experiences being developed to sit alongside their images are sometimes about their experiences of claiming asylum in the UK, or the struggles they are going through at the moment.
Every week our refugee friends show us how talented they are with writing. I am also taking part in the workshops, and I am learning from them. I can see an improvement in their progress every week. Laila Sumpton ( Poet, Writer and Facilitator) is facilitating these workshops, as she continues to walk with refugee friends, and the open writing space which began during lockdown. Laila comes with a wide experience and she is incredibly talented – we’re all learning so much form her.
This project creates a safe space for refugee friends to share their writing and express their feelings. Every week, I can see how it enables beautifully to illustrate their own experiences and what they are going through. They are learning and developing new skills; they are building their confidence and self-esteem. They are exploring how to express themselves and most importantly, they feel like a part of this community.
Some of our refugee friends work will be previewed at our Songs for an Imagined Nation event Saturday 25th of June, join us and take a look at some of the pictures of this project exhibited at our JRS centre.
This project is in partnership with ‘Can you see me, but I don’t exist’ project. The project began in Europe, and JRS is the first organisation in the UK to start this project with them.
We are enormously grateful to Alan, Jenny and the whole Can you see me’ family for sharing their project and skills with our refugee friends.