City's Refugee Week ends on a high note

Sunderland’s Refugee Week for 2022 ended with a lively concert featuring songs all about a ‘City of Sanctuary’ and performed by refugees themselves.

An audience of a hundred packed into Sunderland College’s Art Academy Theatre to watch Sunderland Stories of Sanctuary, a specially curated performance by Citizen Songwriters, a social enterprise which brings people together, who wouldn't otherwise meet, to write music.

The songs were given energy by a new community scratch choir of Sunderland residents including recently arrived refugees, led by singer-songwriters Sam Slatcher and Alex Summerson from Citizen Songwriters.

The concert included new songs written in community workshops and performed to coincide with Sunderland Council’s recent decision to be recognised as a “City of Sanctuary”.

Refugee Week ended with a concert of songs all about the ‘City of Sanctuary’, performed by people seeking sanctuary. Picture by Iam Burn.

One song went: “We’re the bridge across the river, the sanctuary by the sea / You don’t have to worry, there’s a place for you to be”

The performance also featured Raghad Haddad, a Syrian viola player who once performed with the National Syrian Orchestra before she sought sanctuary in the UK in 2016.

One piece she performed was a piece originally composed by German-born composer William Herschel who, like Raghad, was a musician in exile from his homeland. Herschel, who also a scientific genius, sought refuge in Sunderland from war in Europe in 1761.

The choir gave an emotional rendition of Sunderland-born Emeli Sande’s You Are Not Alone.

The project began last summer when the council invited recently arrived refugee communities to explore the cultural sites of Sunderland, with Citizen Songwriters delivering songwriting workshops.

Griselda, a choir member and sanctuary seeker from El Salvador, said: “It was really moving, exciting and sad at the same time to have sung those songs. My family and I really enjoyed taking part”.

Gill Coates, a choir member from Sunderland, said “I’ve never been to an event where the energy was so full of love it was almost palpable.”

The performance received a standing ovation, led by Sunderland’s deputy Mayor, Cllr Dorothy Trueman and deputy consort Cllr Harry Trueman.

The project was commissioned by Sunderland City Council in partnership with Sunderland College. Details of the project can be found www.citizensongwriters.org/sunderland-stories-of-sanctuary.

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