Manchester is a city defined by its historical welcome of the immigrant. It’s wealth, creativity and industry formed through the integration of migrant workers over the past 200 years has created a truly innovative, multi-cultural city. Many Christian ministries, including The Mustard Tree and The Boaz Trust, have been working for many years to serve the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, and churches have established community drop-in’s for friendly advice, language classes and support services, food parcels and lunch clubs.
But over the past few months there has been an increased awareness of our need to respond together in partnership with our council and wider communities if we are to make an impact on the ever increasing needs of the refugee. We need to find creative ways of challenging negativity from the media, instead highlighting real stories that invite compassion, justice and hope. We need to explore how we can live well together when our ideas, traditions, fashion and faith backgrounds are so different.
Across Manchester the arts have been utilised as a tool for sharing these stories, giving the vulnerable a voice and visualising questions about the values we need to embrace as a city if we want to live well together. Last month a church at the heart of the city centre opened its doors to host an exhibition called Be Welcome. Amidst all the hustle and bustle of commerce, shoppers and the Christmas markets, passersby are invited to consider the response of two artists to the practice of welcoming the stranger. Each artist has been personally moved to respond to the current global refugee crisis by taking time to be with groups of displaced people, to listen to their stories and give them a voice through the images they have created. They invite us to respond with understanding and compassion to the next stranger or refugee we meet as we go about our daily routines.
A creative arts evening was also held bringing together projects from across the city that work with ‘the stranger’ to tell their stories of how the arts are being used to transform peoples lives, to bring healing and a sense of respect and ownership to their own unique story. Peacock Productions showed their film Alicija that tells the story of a young girl trafficked and exploited. A client of The Mustard Tree shared how their music workshops had brought a sense of hope and well-being into his life. Stories were told of drama workshops with the homeless, from Acting on Impulse, short films created exposing true life stories of life on the streets. Painter Beth Kwant talked about the life size portraits she created on a residency with the Boaz Trust, responding to the life stories of 10 female refugees seeking support within our city.
These are but a few of the creative projects taking place across Manchester that are helping to show compassion and give hope to the most vulnerable in our city. We have been encouraged by the shared vision Christian artists and ministries have with the secular cultural organisations and spaces across Manchester. By working together, in partnership we hope to begin to make a real difference to the lives of those who most need to receive a loving welcome in our city.
Written by Lesley Sutton