In July 2017 English PEN completed the second year of the three-year outreach project Brave New Voices. The project offers creative opportunities for young refugees and asylum seekers, 12-26 years old, based in and around Greater London, who face isolation and often lack the opportunity to have a voice in society.
In its second year Brave New Voices worked with five groups in two schools and three refugee centres. Through creative writing workshops young refugees and asylum seekers again had the space to express themselves and their stories, sharing them with each other and the wider community.
The creative writing workshops + guest writers/artists
Raymond Antrobus, Kat Lewis, Simon Mole, Femi Martin, and Shazea Quraishi as facilitators led exciting creative workshops exploring all stages of the writing process, exploring creative responses from multilingual poetry to visual concepts for the animations.
Salusbury World enabled BNV to work in Capital City Academy for a second year and in Newman Catholic College for the first time. Workshops also continued at Praxis in Bethnal Green, Migrants Organise in North Kensington and, for the first time, at British Red Cross in Islington.
The acclaimed Kurdish-Turkish poet Bejan Matur visited each group as guest international author. Bejan read her poetry in Turkish and English, discussed her path to becoming a writer, and answered questions. Participants wrote their own powerful poems inspired by Bejan’s work.
In a new departure for Brave New Voices, an animation team from Creative Connection worked with each group to develop an animation of a poem written and read jointly by the group. All the animations were screened at the celebration event on 4 July at the Free Word Centre, along with a short film made by the Migrants Organise group.
The participants gained skills and confidence; a sense of community and support; and were able to share stories that they had never previously discussed. All facilitators, teachers and partners reported on the clear advance in writing skills and confidence. The participants also developed skills in performance and speaking impacting on their wider lives and education.
The workshops also enabled young people of different ages to come together and make friends. One participant commented: ‘I love the session and the friends.’ Staff observed the camaraderie between the participants, and between participants and support staff at the refugee centres, as well as with the facilitators.
From Joseph Harris, English Teacher at Capital City Academy:
Brave New Voices is a fantastic project – each session reminds me exactly why I became an English teacher. It has been a real privilege to have been a part of. I don’t think I will ever forget one student moving a room to tears with her poem about her grandmother. Moreover, it has been so exciting to meet writers and performers from all over the world, and to see them energise the pupils, to watch the young people decide “Yes, I could be a writer too!”
Brave New Voices not only fosters a love of poetry and reading, of taking joy in playing with words, but also offers all pupils the opportunity to experience success in English. Given that all pupils involved come from a refugee / migrant background, many of them are still in the earlier stages of language acquisition, and do not attain especially highly in English and other essay-based subjects. Indeed, I would imagine that on a daily basis they struggle with language-related issues. However, Brave New Voices introduces stimuli and activities skilfully so that each pupil ends up with work of which they are visibly proud. The collaborative and caring atmosphere of the group also fosters teamwork and provides the ideal stage to rehearse performance skills – it has been a delight to watch their self-confidence, especially in regards to English language, grow week on week.
Best of all, however, is the opportunity for self-expression and working through potentially quite challenging feelings and emotions creatively, in a safe space; creating beautiful pieces of writing which they perhaps did not think they were capable of. In my experience, these are the sorts of memories from school which we carry for the rest of our lives.
In May 2017, six young writers from Brave New Voices were invited by the Roundhouse to take part in Talking Doorsteps, a spoken word exchange project exploring the idea of home. It connected young poets and filmmakers from across the globe, sharing their work digitally with audiences worldwide. The project created a network to connect and develop poetry communities around the world. The poets crafted new poems on the theme of home and identity and had professional quality films produced in locations across Camden, and performed in a final showcase.
House of Lords Chamber Debate
English PEN, along with Speakers Corner Trust and 38 Degrees, was invited to participate in the annual House of Lords chamber debate for young people, on freedom of expression. We invited Brave New Voices’ partner Migrants Organise to take part. After debate training days, young speakers were selected as keynote speakers, making their cases for various perspectives on the proposal for limits on free speech.
BNV was delighted to have enabled participants to develop their talents and opportunities at the heart of the UK’s political establishment and at a major arts venue.
Brave New Voices: Imagine Your Shadow– the book launch
On Tuesday 4 July, Brave New Voices launched its second anthology, Imagine Your Shadow, (link)with a celebration reading and summer party at the Free Word Centre. The animations from Creative Connection, and the Migrants Organise short film were also shown. The anthology is a beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking, always surprising collection of work from across the BNV groups. Imagine Your Shadow deals with issues of identity and the quest to retain a sense of self in the midst of upheaval and the unknown.
Facilitators involved in the project also shared their work, with the project’s new young writers performing alongside the professionals to a packed audience of friends, family and invited guests, in a brilliant, affirming sharing of the work and gifts of the project.