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Stories of Sanctuary 



Stories of Sanctuary is a touring performance piece of refugee stories and songs run by Citizen Songwriters. To date Stories of Sanctuary has been performed over 15 times, each time tailored to the town/city the performance has been hosted in, featuring a community choir of people seeking sanctuary and more settled residents and a variety of musicians. Each performance is prepared and performed by those with lived experience of seeking sanctuary and with other residents, which movingly sets the stories of people seeking safety from war in the context of the diverse histories of migration and sanctuary seeking that has shaped the towns and cities as they are experienced today. 

Tour dates - upcoming: 

Durham - Durham Fringe Festival - 24 / 26 July 2024
Newcastle - Newcastle Cathedral - 18 July 2024 - plus special guest Sean Cooney
Sunderland - Sunderland Minster - 23 June 2024, 2pm - no booking required
Ripon - Ripon Cathedral - 21 June 2024 


Past concerts:

Newcastle - Newcastle Cathedral - Nov 2023
Sunderland - Sunderland College Arts Theatre - June 2022

Southampton - Chandler's Ford Methodist Church - November 2019
Lanchester, Co. Durham - Lanchester Methodist Church - September 2019
Leicester - Leicester Cathedral - August 2019
Stourbridge - Stourbridge Methodist Church - August 2019
Hartlepool - Hartlepool Waterfront Festival - July 2019
Hull - Gulbenkian Centre - June 2019
Sheffield - Theatre Live - June 2019
Stockton-on-Tees - Stockton Arts Centre - March 2019
Durham - Durham Cathedral, The Nave - March 2019
 - Houses of Parliament - November 2018
Durham - Durham Cathedral, Chapter House - October 2018


Stories of Sanctuary began as a story and songwriting project in 2018 which emerged out of friendships between people seeking sanctuary from Syria, who had settled in Durham in the summer of 2016, and local residents from different walks of life. Led by singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher, with Rabiaa Al Hassoun, the project was supported with Arts Council England 'Grant from the Arts' project funding. Bringing together diverse residents of the city who all had a story or two to tell about their journey to the North East of England, the first Stories of Sanctuary project of its kind weaved together ancient stories of seeking sanctuary with stories of Syrian refugees recently settled in towns across Co. Durham showcasing the rich history of seeking sanctuary in the North East of England. You can read more about the Durham Stories of Sanctuary project here. 


Stories of Sanctuary - the concept

‘Stories of Sanctuary’ is a touring performance piece rooted in the cultural history of the Northern England that highlights the hidden histories of diversity and sanctuary (from ancient Celtic saints, to Syrian roman soldiers, to the global silk trade of Northumbria, to migrant workers, to modern day refugees).

Every time Citizen Songwriters performs ‘Stories of Sanctuary’, the stories change depending on the place of performance.


In Durham, for example, Syrian singers told their own story of seeking sanctuary from the 2011 civil war in Syria with local stories of Saint Cuthbert as a 'sleeping refugee' as well as the ancient practice of sanctuary seeking. The performance piece featured local folk musician Paul Martin, singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher and classical Syrian viola player Raghad Haddad from the National Syrian Orchestra. 


In Sunderland, the performance piece featured a new song all about Sunderland as a sanctuary by the sea and a bridge across the ‘sunder’/separate land as well as the home place of Saint Bede, the 7th century scholar, poet and spiritual leader who lived in multicultural Jarrow with its global trade links. Together with modern day stories of refugees seeking sanctuary from across the world (from Iraq to El Salvador), the performance brought alive the rich migration that shaped Sunderland from the shipyards to the glassworks as well as new arrivals who work in education, health care and other public sector jobs, and who have made a significant contribution to Sunderland's booming arts, culture and heritage sector. 

Each performance involves local communities, especially people who are seeking sanctuary, who are invited to learn about different local stories of sanctuary seeking and then encouraged to have a go singing the ever expanding repertoire of songs. The project is run by Citizen Songwriters' professionally trained singers, musicians and workshop facilitators who have over 15 years of experience of running community songwriting projects between them. You can find some of the songs from the Stories of Sanctuary project in the album 'Stories of Sanctuary' which was released in 2018. 

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UK Stories of Sanctuary Tour

It was the successful Crowdfund Campaign in December 2018 that gave birth to the idea that Stories of Sanctuary could be translated into other towns and cities across the North East and beyond. In 2018, Citizen Songwriters CIC was established and enough funds were raised to take the project to new audiences across the UK in 2019. The project visited Stockton Arts Centre (March 22), Sheffield’s Migration Matters Festival (June 22), University of Hull’s Refugee Week (June 23), Hartlepool Waterfront Festival (July 21), the International Festival of Glass, Stourbridge (August 26), Leicester Cathedral for ArtReach’s Journeys Festival International (August 27) and Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church in Southampton (November 9).

The tour not only brought Stories of Sanctuary’s powerful songs of hope and courage to new audiences, the tour was an opportunity for those from refugee backgrounds to visit new cities and develop their skills. Sabah, one of the tour coordinators and singers describes the impact of the tour:

“On the tour, we were hosted by local residents. We were welcomed with warm hearts. Music is the language of the world. When I was singing, I felt every word I sang. I sang from my heart to all the hearts of the audience. I wanted to tell them that despite pain and sadness, we are brave because sometimes you just need to hope and have faith that things will work out”

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Stories of Sanctuary performance at Durham Cathedral, March 2019

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