On 13 November at 4pm through to 10pm, poets, writers, refugees, asylum seekers and other recent arrivals to the City, will be meeting at Nottingham Writers’ Studio to share stories, literary cultures, performance, tea and hopefully, cake, as part of the Nottingham Festival of Literature. Henderson Mullin, CEO of Writing East Midlands explains why.
“…this is who we are, who are you?”
Tony Blair said a lot things. Some more true than others. Among these his: “A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in… .and how many want out”, remains credible.
Clearly, the UK measures well against other countries, and within the UK, Nottingham can look back at its proud tradition. Most of us would agree that it is a place where people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions have lived well together, and most of us, I believe, would prefer it remains that way.
‘Immigration’ continues to dominate front pages and apparently front rooms. More so since Brexit, which to some, “has perhaps emboldened racists by leading them to believe that the majority agree with their views on immigration and legitimising public expressions of hatred.” (The Guardian Sept. 2016).
On 19 July 2016, Paddy Tipping, Nottingham Police and Crime Commissioner, spoke of “the need to highlight the positive effects of immigration to counter the hostile narratives that prevent integration” and the “increasingly hostile environment to new arrivals and indeed to established communities” in Nottinghamshire. Tensions are undoubtedly rising.
In some ways our passions have crystallized around ‘Refugees’ and ‘Asylum Seekers,’ the unwitting poster people at the sharp end of the debate. It is estimated that there are currently 8,000 refugees and over 1,000 destitute asylum seekers living in Nottingham. The government agreed proportion should be 1 to 200 resident locals or, roughly, 1,500 people. It is against this background that a new project, Write Here: Sanctuary has been launched.
There is a strong element of ‘this is who we are, who are you?’ about the project. In Nottingham local poets Rich Goodson and Leanne Moden run weekly sessions at the Nottingham Refugee Forum women’s group. These are mirrored In Derby and Leicester by writers Kev Fegan, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Jess Green and Alex Plasatis.
“Write Here: Sanctuary creates safe spaces for the newly arrived to mix with each other, and crucially with people who would describe themselves as locals.”
The idea is that people can express themselves creatively in spoken word, story-telling and creative writing, or merely talk without reams of forms on a desk and a security guard pacing nearby. In some case’s this is the first non-formal opportunities for expressing themselves in English. For other’s it’s an opportunity for them to re-balance accepted narratives around refugees and migration.
It is a creative welcome mat which, we hope, will do a little to uphold the City’s long held tradition of absorbing people from other ethnicities, religions and cultures into its social fabric, allowing its colours and textures to be altered, while remaining, indefinably, Nottingham – a place that many more people want into, than want out.