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Sunderland Stories of Sanctuary ends Refugee Week on a high note

This year’s Refugee Week concluded with a lively concert of songs all about Sunderland as a ‘City of Sanctuary’, performed by people seeking sanctuary.

A hundred audience members packed into Sunderland College’s Art Academy Theatre on Saturday (25 June) to watch ‘Sunderland Stories of Sanctuary’, a specially curated performance by Citizen Songwriters. The songs were brought alive by a new community scratch choir of Sunderland residents including recently arrived refugees, led by Sam Slatcher and Alex Summerson singer-songwriters from Citizen Songwriters.  

Citizen Songwriters Concert Credit Iam Burn

The concert included new songs written in community workshops, and timely performed to coincide with Sunderland Council’s unanimous decision last Wednesday to be recognised as a ‘City of Sanctuary’. As one song went: 


“We’re the bridge across the river, the sanctuary by the sea / You don’t have to worry, there’s a place for you to be”

The performance also featured Raghad Haddad, a Syrian viola player who once performed with the National Syrian Orchestra before she sought sanctuary in the UK in 2016. One of the pieces she movingly performed was a piece originally composed by the German-born William Herschel who, like Raghad, was a musician in exile from his homeland. Herschel sought refuge in Sunderland from war in Europe in 1761.

A teary moment came when the choir sang Sunderland-born Emeli Sande’s ‘You Are Not Alone’; a song that spoke bravely into today’s challenge of seeking sanctuary in Britain:


“Are you sick and tired of being lied to? Getting kinda bored of being ignored? Can't find the tribe that you belong to? Oh my friend, you are not alone”

The performance received a standing ovation, led by The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Dorothy Trueman and The Deputy Consort, Councillor Harry Trueman.

The project began last summer when Sunderland City Council invited recently arrived refugee communities to explore the cultural sites of Sunderland, with Citizen Songwriters delivering songwriting workshops. You can read more about the project here. Here are some testimonials from the choir: 

“It was really moving, exciting and sad at the same time to have sung those songs. My family and I really enjoyed taking part”. (Griselda, choir member)

“It was such a privilege to be part of this choir performance. I’ve never been to an event where the energy was so full of love it was almost palpable” (Gill, choir member)

"I had never thought of joining a choir before but when the opportunity arose I was delighted to join. It has been great to expand my horizons, meet new people and support such a wonderful cause" (Maggie, choir member) 

"We loved being part of such a fun and friendly choir, and singing beautiful songs. We wish it could carry on!" (Sarah and Mandy, choir members)

"I was only driving to take my wife, but my family and I ended up being recruited to join the choir! I never imagined I would be singing songs I learnt just three weeks ago. However, we enjoyed it and the message in the songs has just come at the right time; when Sunderland is declared a 'city of sanctuary'" (Chizenge, choir member) 

Photographs below taken by Iam Burn: 

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