With the support of Newcastle College ESOL department we delivered a Zine making workshop, art sessions, and interviews, to explore what life has been like for refugees and asylum seekers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was a huge variety in experience, so for the most part we focused the script for Omid on thematic overlaps; difficulty accessing nutritious food, unexpected trauma triggers, the grief of separation from family and trying to maintain connection via technology, challenging living conditions, loneliness, fear of the virus, and a sense of powerlessness in people to protect themselves from it. Perhaps the most frequent commonality amongst participants, however, was the enthusiastic determination to study and improve their English, and a deep gratitude for the support of Newcastle College, Newcastle Council and other services in the city.
The reason we focused on the stories of participants who had stayed in hotels was in part to act as a counter narrative to some national press and media stories; during the pandemic many outlets propped up misleading rumours about ‘plush’ conditions and stoked an already hostile environment. The stories shared both by our participants and around the country were in stark contrast to this.
Artist Betty Hill worked with students to create the pieces of artwork seen in the exhibition; we felt it was important that participants who were not able to participate in script and story development because of our differing first languages, were instead able to express themselves and their experiences through art. As hope and optimism swelled in even the most soul stirring, harrowing conversations, we decided to focus on that as a theme. Please see below for the artwork.