Derby-based Theatre Company Launches An Initiative To Break Down Barriers Between Local Residents And Those Seeking Asylum
Maison Foo theatre company who have just finished a Midlands- wide tour of their brand -new show, A Thing Mislaid, (inspired by migration, journeys and friendship), are hosting a ground-breaking event to help forge new friendships and greater understanding between people living in the county and those who have migrated here.
It was during the tour of A Thing Mislaid that Maison Foo were awarded 'Theatre Company of Sanctuary' status by national charity- The City of Sanctuary. (City of Sanctuary exists across the UK to give those entering the UK a safe welcome and to work with groups- be that schools, cities or theatres who want to offer support to those who have fled violence and persecution).
Hosted at Derby Theatre on the 1st December, Meet Your Neighbour is a response to a comment made to Maison Foo's Artistic Directors, Bethany Sheldon and Kate Lowe back in 2017.
During a visit to Derby's Refugee Advice Centre, one refugee said to them both- "You are the first two people I have had a proper conversation with in two years." It was this comment that has propelled the theatre company in to action.
Beth said: "We came away from that meeting asking ourselves what could two artists do to make people from refugee and asylum seeker communities more welcome? We approached Derby Theatre (where we are Associate Artists) and Derby Refugee Advice Centre to see if they would both work with us to set up a steering group of refugee friends to put on a community event and both agreed. Meet Your Neighbour has been developed through this connection- it's an event where people from many different backgrounds can come together to enjoy each other's company, get to know each other and importantly create an understanding of different cultures and communities.
We feel if more people just took the time to get to know people they would soon stop listening to the negative headlines connected to Asylum and see how much we benefit from the diverse culture our new neighbours bring. As a mum, this is really important to me, I want my daughter to grow up in a world that's accepting, a world that does not see barriers."
Nasrin Samavi, a member of the Refugee steering group, said: "I see negative things in the media all the time, about immigration, refugees and I think - why? We are all human, we are all people that need love, friendship and neighbours. We need to help each other and change attitudes and we do this by talking to each other - it is simple! The event is a great opportunity - just a few hours and by the end we will get to know each other as friends, we will enjoy the simple things. This is solidarity, love and we should all want to live peacefully."
Ruth Long, Volunteer Coordinator at Derby Refugee Advice Centre, said: "Working with a wide range of organisations is incredibly important in helping people integrate in to their local society. Being able to build great relationships with arts organisations like Maison Foo enables us to do this in creative ways we wouldn't ordinarily be able to do and develop new exciting projects for the future."
Meet Your Neighbour will take place in Derby Theatre's Bistro between 12-2pm on Saturday 1st December, hosted by Maison Foo alongside their friends from Derby Theatre, Derby Refugee Advice Centre and Upbeat Communities. Members of the public are free to drop in at any point.
Beth continued: "We encourage anyone to come along- regardless of age, background or culture. We will be having a community feast and welcome people to bring a dish with them, no matter how big or small. In true party-style, we'll have an eclectic playlist of music- but our one has been put together by the Refugee Friends Group."
Derby Theatre will also be offering a number of free tickets to their Christmas show, Hansel and Gretel to asylum seekers and refugees who have attended the Meet Your Neighbour event. A great example of sharing a British cultural tradition with those who are new to the country.
'Meet Your Neighbour' is just one of many things Maison Foo have been doing to welcome refugees and those seeking asylum into communities through their Refugee Friends Scheme. The scheme has been funded by The Evan Cornish Foundation, Derby Theatre and Arts Council England.