We're taking the Stories of Sanctuary community songwriting project on tour across the UK, to share our stories of seeking sanctuary from war and the hope of building new lives together.
We are a community songwriting project that brings together Syrian refugees, local residents and students in County Durham through creating songs together. Through sharing our own personal stories of seeking sanctuary - from old folk Celtic stories to recent, raw and difficult accounts of fleeing Syria to the North East - we have creating new songs, recorded a professionally produced music album and have begun performing to sold-out audiences! The project is curated by Durham folk singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher.
Where it all began?
We are a relatively young collective, consisting of Syrian refugees who fled the war in Syria and settled in County Durham in 2016, local residents and students from the University of Durham. Back in June 2018, most of the group met for the first time as we began exploring the rich history of the city of Durham including the arrival of Saint Cuthbert, a refugee community fleeing the Vikings and the famous Sanctuary Knocker on the door of the Cathedral, that offered safety those fleeing political retribution.
Through these experiences, we reflected on our own stories of seeking sanctuary and set to create brand new songs.
"I never expected we had this talent inside ourselves. The songs express exactly how we feel" (Nousayba)
As time went by, our group of 20 people not only grew in solidarity and friendship, we had developed enough songs to record them!
Stories of Sanctuary - the album
"Timely, emotional and beautiful" (The Young'uns)
Over two weeks in August, Sam invited several members of the choir to perform on the recording of the album at Studio One, County Durham, with folk producer Ron Angus. Along the way, we were delighted to welcome Raghad Haddad, viola player from the National Syrian Orchestra into the studio. Raghad is a highly renowned classical concert violist who has been on tour all over the world and helped develop the album into a fusion of British folk and classical Syrian songs, reflecting the musical traditions of the group.
You can preview the album here. (And one of the rewards we're offering is a signed copy of the CD!)
Stories of Sanctuary sells out Durham Cathedral
After two busy months of rehearsing our new songs, we launched the album at Durham Cathedral's Chapter House, selling out to a full house of 170 people. For most in the choir, it was their very first performance! For those in the audience, it was a very moving night as many of the raw and emotional songs were brought to life through live performance as well as sharing the insights behind the songs.
"Wow. What an experience, both emotionally and musically" (audience member)
A month later, we were invited to perform the songs in the Houses of Parliament in front of MPs invited by City of Sanctuary, a grassroots movement that builds cities of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers. It was here that individuals, community groups, universities, and local charities took an interest and invited us to come and visit their towns and cities. Which got us thinking...
Photo credit: Simone Rudolphi
The Crowdfund Campaign
Now, we were fortunate to receive some funding to support the costs of the first phase of the project. However, the project has out-grown the vision we first had and we as a group feel at the beginning of a very exciting journey. With the success of Durham Cathedral's premiere performance, we have decided to launch a Crowdfund campaign to raise £5000 to allow us to visit five new cities.
Every £1000 raised will unlocked a new city we can bring the Stories of Sanctuary performance to! Each tour will allow the young people in our group to develop their leadership skills as well as engaging new audiences in the powerful stories of fleeing war and the hopeful songs of building lives together, creating safe spaces for those seeking sanctuary from war.
The costs go directly to:
- The costs of hiring a minibus for the core members of the choir plus 5 new spaces for young people who would benefit from coming along.
- Subsiding the costs of accommodation.
- The venue hire fee.
- Coordination time.
- Musician's fee.
Should we make an extra £200 per city, we will also run a 'collective songwriting experience' where we will put on an opportunity to share the process of songwriting with a local partner organisation.
At present, all of our organising and coordinating is being done on a voluntary basis, with the in-kind support of a local church and volunteers. Raising £5000 will allow us to afford the costs of taking this exciting and hopeful project on tour, to spread the poignant messages of peacemaking and hope to wider audiences.
Please do support our campaign!
If you'd like to get involved, please visit our website and subscribe online to receive e-mail updates.
Thank you very much for your support,
The Sanctuary Seekers
Finally, a huge thanks to Simone J Rudolphi for her stunning photographs and Nick Whitworth for the video 'An Introduction'. Some of the shots from his film have been included in the Crowdfund Campaign video above.
"Poignant, moving, hopeful, full of humanity" (Steve Pledger)
"Collaborative arts projects that attempt to bring different voices together can often flounder when the goodwill that surrounds them simply isn’t enough to produce something workable, or let us be honest, listenable. “Stories of Sanctuary” I’m pleased to report comfortably breaks out of any such mould and takes us on a beautiful, rich, cultural, historic and moving journey through the workshops and ideas that brought it into being. [...]. Stories of Sanctuary speaks loudly of hope in the midst of difficulty and hardship, light in the midst of dark and dangerous times. As you journey with Sam and his co-collaborators through Stories of Sanctuary you will experience an album of great beauty, peace and musical depth. It is not hard to hear catharsis in the lines of the songs, in the working of the instruments and the gathered voices. This project was way more than just an artistic exercise as the songs, their messages and performances push firmly back against the hate and blame that is all to prevalent in our times – they bring us a different way" (Gareth Davies-Jones)