Lincoln Drill Hall

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Offering a warm welcome to refugees could greatly enrich our lives and our communities

‘I suppose we should take some refugees’. How many times have you heard that said with a heavy heart? We disagreed.

#CompassionateLincoln is a campaign to give confidence to the compassionate, to demonstrate the power of community, to encourage community-led action and to recognize that we all have a role to play in making our city a great place to live.

Nearly one hundred people gathered in Lincoln Drill Hall in the early evening of 26 September responding to a call by a small group of people who had met earlier in the month frustrated by having no way to respond to the refugee crisis. Everyone had seen the dreadful images on their televisions of people, just like us, fleeing terror in their home country.

The purpose of the gathering was to find out how ordinary people can offer  welcome to the refugees who will be coming to the city over the coming months. It was not a debate over the pros and cons, but rather an opportunity to try to understand what being a refugee actually means and what we can do.

Ric Metcalfe, leader of the City Council, gave us the stark statistics of the scale of the disaster in Syria and the plans already put in place by central government and local authorities for dealing with some of the practical aspects of the arrivals. He told us that those coming would be those in greatest need. It was this aspect that people focused on.

First though we heard about what was already happening, and there is a lot. There has already been one collection of clothing which has now been sent out to Croatia where many refugees will soon be experiencing colder weather. There will be more. But we also heard about churches making houses available for local homeless people. This was an important reminder that it is not just refugees who are in need; there are many already here.

It is not just about numbers of people moving from a house in Syria to a house in Lincoln. It is about individuals fleeing their home and seeking a new home elsewhere. This led us to think about what a home, as opposed to a house, actually is. It is a place to be safe. It is a place that is familiar. It is a place where people can grow and fulfil their potential as human beings. We forget that in refugee camps life stops, education stops, a whole generation can be denied the opportunity for growth, just because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So as well as physical support, refugees coming to the city will need friends to show them the ropes: where to shop, where to access health care, where to worship. The priest of the Orthodox church on Burton road told something of the oppression their sisters churches face in Syria but also of the welcome they can offer here. There were other things. The provision of language support, Lincoln people learning about Syrian culture, Syrian food.

Most of us were fortunate enough to be born in the right place at the right time and so have the ability to share out good fortune with others. Talk without action is pointless.

So everyone present offered ideas on what was needed and what could be done, and, most importantly, what they could do. The City Council also took away an action list. Lincoln has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees stretching back many decades.

This is an open group to which all are welcome. There is a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/compassionatelincoln where readers can find out more about what is planned and join in with their ideas.

I would say that everyone went away feeling that bit closer to being able to help these desperate people both coming from Syria and those closer to our home.

What do you think?

Phil Hamlyn Williams - Chair of Trustees Lincoln Drill Hall
Published in the Lincolnshire Echo 1 October 2015

Thursday, 24 September 2015

This summer of Lincoln Festivals: how has it been for you?

April seems a distant memory with that first chance to see the new home of Magna Carta and the breathtaking castle wall walk which has since attracted record numbers of visitors. Then June and the Magna Carta weekend; July and Jools Holland in the Castle; Jesus Christ Superstar in the Cathedral. But then other festivals: the Chamber Music Festival visiting different parts of the county with world class music; the Film society programme with its Magna Carta flavour. What a summer!

By the end of August I truly thought I was ‘festivaled out’, certainly ‘Magna Carta’d out’; but then came David Starkey at the Drill Hall as part of Festival 800. The controversial Question Time panelist put on his history hat and drew a vibrant picture of the politics of Magna Carta with modern day references and resonance. Billy Bragg and the Levellers provided music and Hillel Steiner much food for thought on human rights and migration.

An old friend who runs one of the famous Lincoln restaurants told me that her daughter, returning this summer from a time away, had noticed a much stronger cultural vibe in the city. Another friend said how he used always to go to Edinburgh for their festival and this year hadn’t, but hadn’t needed to since there were so many quality events in Lincoln on his doorstep.

Yet there is more to come.

I admit it. I love history, so much so that I am now spending my time writing it. The Lincoln Book Festival at the end of September has, as it says in its blurb, ‘History at its heart’. It is after all held in a city where over two thousand years of history seep from every stone. This year’s festival has very nearly the same time span, running as it does from an exploration of Islam, through a snapshot of the women of Lincolnshire in the 13th century, through ages of revolution, to previously unpublished material surrounding the abdication crisis and up to the 21st century’s wrestles with press freedom.

We then have, in true Monty Python fashion, something completely different: Frequency. You know the one that ‘other people seem to like, not really my thing’.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of the organisers and this helped me understand it better. It’s not loud, atonal music; it is far more subtle. It is all about the digital age we now live in, and we do, all of us even if we don’t do ‘Facebook’. News broadcasts carry images taken by ordinary people on their phones; everything is more immediate; we can all have our say. The Frequency Festival explores what this means in our lives and uses digital technology to complement the more traditional art forms.

This year’s Festival has as its theme: Liberation. I asked what were the events for those of us new to it all. She listed them: ‘Cosmic Birds’ a quiet, meditative, kinetic piece playing with light at Chad Varah House; ‘Enlightenment’  at Waterside Shopping Centre; 'The One The Few The Many’ - an installation piece is going into Cobb Hall at Lincoln Castle, representing Lincoln’s history and its future; and Through the Fourth Wall’ - a magical, theatrical, projection piece in the Roman Postern Gate site. I would add at the Drill Hall, Compagnia TPO: Bleu, a combination of ‘sumptuous visual imagery, movement, dance and music’.

When it is all over please let me know what you thought of it all.