Syrian Refugees Explore Weardale with Northern Heartlands

On Saturday 24th November Northern Heartlands’ Community Facilitators Tariq and Anna invited a group of Syrian refugee families to see the Highlights Contemporary Craft Tour 2018 ‘Craft + Conflict’ exhibition at St. Thomas’ Church Hall in Stanhope; an exhibition of work by contemporary UK and international artists, on the theme of CONFLICT.

Tariq and Anna met the group several times earlier in the year to build relationships, find out more about their skills and interests, and to ensure they were comfortable attending an exhibition exploring such personally sensitive themes. It quickly became clear through these conversations that families were keen to attend and welcomed the opportunity to explore more of County Durham. Twenty-seven people got on the bus that morning; a bus that was full of song and laughter.

As part of the offer, Northern Heartlands invited families to take part in a workshop led by Morwenna Catt – an artist specialising in textiles – which ran alongside the exhibition. Using her evocative installation Sweethearts & Sandbags in Craft & Conflict as inspiration, Morwenna supported participants to create their own embroidered textile butterflies using both traditional and contemporary Syrian imagery and fabrics she had provided for them.

During the workshop, a sense of calm fell over the room. Faces were pictures of concentration; men, women and young people all focused on creating their individual designs.

Interestingly, although presented with an opportunity to create their own designs influenced by themes of conflict, no one decided to address these themes directly through their work, and instead, simply chose to create something they thought was beautiful.

Weardale-based writer and producer Caroline Beck took the opportunity to meet with the group for a second time and record responses to questions she asked them about their experience of Craft & Conflict, and crucially, home. These conversations will make up one of a series of podcasts Northern Heartlands has commissioned from Caroline, who’s spent the past months inviting a number of well-known writers to Weardale and recording their impressions of our ‘Great Place’.  Watch  this space!

We would like to thank Durham County Council’s Housing Solutions team for their support on this project and give special thanks to Rawda Rashed (Refugee Resettlement Officer) for making communicating with everyone so easy on the day.

We’re very much looking forward to seeing how our relationship develops with these Syrian families over the coming months, and where the next phase of this project takes us.