“You, Me and those who came before” Animation for Refugee Week
We answered a callout for a Digital Commission from the wonderful Counterpoint Arts, a national organisation who engage with migrant and refugee experiences through arts and cultural programmes.
We put in a proposal to create a very short animation based on the stories of locally based refugees. We feel really proud to have our work as part of Refugee Week, a national celebration of the contribution of refugees, broadening public understanding of the reasons why people seek sanctuary.
We hooked up with DASH (Desperate Asylum Seekers Huddersfield), Sanctuary Kirklees and Kirklees Council and Yorkshire Spirit’s Carry My Story Project. We were introduced to refugees with a passion to talk about what had happened to them and to connect with the local community. We held open sessions where people could come and tell us their story at Hoot Creative Arts. We were moved and inspired by their stories and by their tenacity and optimism.
They had so much to say – stories of persecution and upheaval from very different countries, difficult journeys, getting used to British weather, the first time they saw snow, displaced families, claiming asylum, their long wait to get their leave to remain, financial destitution, not being allowed to work, not being able to drive a car, missing Mum back home, racism, mental health, learning English, coping with uncertainty, volunteering, getting involved in community groups, the kindness of strangers, how they feel grateful and safe living in Britain, the power of optimism, and the way that their awesome kids are forging a very bright future!
Such a lot here to condense into a short animation. HELP! So we called in performance poet and wordsmith extraordinaire Julian Jordon to help us to craft something short but perfectly formed from all of our research. Here’s what he came up with …
You, Me and Those Who Came Before
It’s a challenge being a refugee,
trying to live up to those who came before,
And learning how to drink your British tea.
The climate’s hostile, surely you agree?
It never rains, you complain, but it pours.
It’s a challenge being a refugee,
though we now have a flat with our own key,
no longer dread the knock upon the door
and getting used to cups of British tea.
You too, at times might feel the need to flee.
No one knows what their life has in store.
It’s a challenge being a refugee,
keen to prove how useful we can be
to a welcoming community like yours,
inviting us to take a cup of tea.
Thank you, that fewer nightmares there will be:
no more nocturnal images of war.
It’s a challenge, being a refugee,
though easier when sharing your British cup of tea.
Julian Jordon 2019
We asked the ever eloquent Julian to pen a few extra words about his thoughts and processes…
“I was delighted to take on this commission from Fettle to write a poem for Refugee Week, it being an opportunity to play with the experience of being a foreigner, an outsider in Britain, a country where everyone else is foreign, and what we are and do is ‘normal’. Yet my own background allows me to see this, the country of my birth, from slightly different perspectives. My father was Polish, my mother Irish, her father English and her grandmother French. My mum’s recollections were always of somewhere else, of her poor-but-idyllic childhood in Kildare. She didn’t have an Irish accent because they arrived here when she was 7 years old; but she didn’t have a Lancashire accent either (her family lived in Oldham), and would often tell me off for speaking like the locals. Which, of course, set me apart from my peers sometimes.
My father’s Polish accent and poor English were an embarrassment to me, as a child. He got lots of ‘anti-foreigner’ comments (bloody Pole), yet had been a Polish pilot who flew with the RAF during WW2. Without the Poles, the country might have succumbed to the Germans in the Battle of Britain. He wasn’t here then, but was in a concentration camp in Russia and lucky to survive, joining the RAF in Iran in 1941.
I am British, born, bred and buttered; and yet, and yet, there are times when I feel different. At secondary school I was bullied by one gang for being Catholic, and by another for being Jewish (I have a big nose, so fair enough I suppose). My mother brought me up to put others first, to share what you have, no matter how little. She used to tut-tut at adverts from the local paper: “Rooms to rent. No coloureds”. Whilst living both in France and in Wales, I have experienced anti-English prejudice. When Enoch Powell gave his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, I remember his idea of ‘sending them back’ made me wonder what it would be like to be ‘sent back’ to Poland, a country I hadn’t visited, whose language I didn’t speak. A position some children might be in now, born here but their parents from elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that it if my father had been sent back to Poland after the war, the chances are that he would have been shot. Stalin wanted no-one around who might oppose his oppressive rule. I mention it as it is like the situation of so many refugees in this country at the moment.
I chose to write a villanelle for this project because of its repetitive form. Most people remember Dylan Thomas’s villanelle, Do Not go Gentle into that Goodnight for its sonorous repetitions. My model was perhaps more Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art, about learning to lose things with good grace. The tea references are to the one thing that unifies almost all of us British people, and is the first thing we offer our visitors. Yet it can be strange to those not used to our culture. Even those cultures used to drinking tea, like the Chinese, putting in milk in seems bizarre. But it is what we often seek when needing solace: a nice, hot cup of tea.
The idea is that at first drinking British tea seems strange, then, as the refugee settles in, the tea becomes a symbol of their acceptance and being accepted. The challenge idea is that those who want to help persuade their fellow citizens to accept refugees often point out their value to the community. And, of course, doctors, nurses and other professionals are cited; but it is more often their children who make the bigger contribution, eventually. It’s a long-term gain, something difficult to explain to a short-term thinking society. Children of refugees are often motivated to learn and to gain qualifications, and keen to work. They are a long-term investment.
But it is also for reasons that any parent can understand, that we must provide a safe environment for refugees and their families. In the UK, we don’t know what the future holds. Our society could break down, post Brexit, for instance. None of us knows our children’s future: You too, at times might feel the need to flee. No one knows what their life has in store.
Funnily enough, the hostile climate quote does reflect Theresa May’s terrible ‘hostile climate for refugees’ policy, but it first arrived in my consciousness when a French friend came over here for a couple of weeks, and declared the countryside beautiful, but a hostile climate. She was talking about the cold, wet weather we often get, which is of course something refugees from warmer climates have to learn to cope with.”
Next to step in was actor Lladel Bryant who gave warmth and expression to the poem recorded by Joe Watson from Hoot Creative Arts.
Next Zane Whittingham, Fettle Director set to work, finding images to bring the poem alive visually.
Zane worked in a rapid fire style coming up with designs which he and Ryan Jones animated in the Fettle studio. Here are some images
Zane said “I wanted to contrast the delicacy of the poem with some real-world experiences of the refugees we have spoken to. We wanted to evoke some of the harshness of the government’s “hostile environment” for refugees, but also to provide a celebration for Refugee Week of the resilience of refugees and the richness of their contribution to Britain.”
Next, musician Hymanot Tesla, kindly allowed us to use an extract of her haunting recording of traditional Ethiopian song “Ambassel” to give the finishing touch to the animation
Here’s the final result!
Here at Fettle we are really pleased with how the animation has come together and hope it will be a powerful resource for Refugee Week and beyond.
We hope to return to the refugees locally we met and animate their full individual stories very soon!