We’ve had an excellent week working with the Stockton community to develop Free to Stay at ARC Stockton Arts Centre. As we develop our new show about belonging it’s interesting that the moment we step through the doors of ARC Mike and I feel right at home. The whirlwind of people in the foyer and cafe attending shows, workshops, events and just meeting friends for tea makes the building buzz morning through to evening. It’s the sort of environment that makes you feel safe and comfortable and well looked after, feelings that the participants of this project have said that they often feel without.
During our development of the show in Stockton we have been visiting some brilliant groups and organisations who are supporting Asylum Seekers and Refugees to settle into the Community. Settling into a new country, with a new language and different culture is not easy at first, our time on the Thai-Myanmar border has taught us that, but when you are fleeing war and persecution, a community like Stockton appears to be sanctuary for many. There are so many local groups and individuals going out of their way to welcome those who feel on the outskirts, we have been blown away by the determination and compassion of those who have dedicated their lives to others in this town. As we were discovering this large support network we did have to ask ourselves, does a show like Free to Stay even need to be made? After much exploration and meeting with people who had fled to the UK after being forced to leave their own country for various unimaginable reasons, the answer was a very definite yes. The importance of making this show couldn’t be more urgent, this subject must be spoken about.
One man we met in Stockton, an Asylum Seeker who had been sent to the UK after he fled his country due to war, was hoping to find refuge with his pregnant wife but instead he has had a very difficult time since he has arrived. He was thrown into a detention centre just outside of London for 6 months being forced apart from his wife. He describes the entire experience as “inhumane”. He told us, “We were locked in our room from 7pm until 7am with no windows to open, no fresh air to breathe. The guards intimidate you, they treat you like a prisoner. If an Asylum meeting clashes with dinner, you do not get fed and go hungry. In that place, people are afraid to speak out when treated like animals, they are made to believe they will be deported.” The man informed us that while in transit to a meeting at a different building the car stopped for a toilet break, “I was humiliated, they handcuffed me and dragged me to the toilet, I told the guard ‘I have not done anything wrong, there is no need to use handcuffs’. He ignored me and I had to follow his orders”. Is this fair treatment of people who have often fled horrific situations such as war zones, rape those who have recently been torn apart from their families? Is this fair treatment? This man says, “The UK goes to other countries and fights for other people’s human rights whether they have been asked or not, what about the human rights of people in this country who are pleading for help?”
Through a series of workshops and conversations discussing the themes we built relationships that have had a big impact on the show’s development and as we usually do, we held a sharing to perform some of the material that we have generated at ARC to get feedback before we continue the development next week in Leeds. We were thrilled at the turn out and support from Stockton and are so grateful to the people who have been helping with our shows. Our audience included some of ARC’s staff, asylum seekers, activists, we were also joined by groups who have experienced homelessness that we worked with in Eden’s development. All came along to see the material so far and we had an informal post-show discussion to discuss the issues raised. One audience member who had been involved in the Path to Eden Project last year said “[The show] might be about statelessness, but being controlled by the government effects everyone, the government treat us like we don’t belong”.
Thank you to ARC and the brilliant community of Stockton, we can’t wait to come and perform the full show of Free to Stay on the 9th September!