Opera North has been recognised for its work with refugees and asylum seekers, and what is more, it’s a first in the country – the award of Theatre of Sanctuary status by City of Sanctuary UK.
The award was gained because Opera North has demonstrated its commitment to making refugees and asylum seekers feel included; has given them a sense of being valued and celebrated through increased accessibility to music, drama and opera. People seeking sanctuary in Leeds and beyond have been given a voice on stage and have the opportunity to make connections when they might otherwise feel isolated. Dramatic, life-changing events, resulting in living in an unfamiliar place, can be traumatic, but Opera North is doing what they can to relieve the impact and bring some joy.
“I am writing to express my gratitude for the chance to experience fantastic music, an outstanding performance and overall a great evening of culture. The work you do with the communities in Leeds is very much appreciated and I hope you are able to carry on bringing the amazing world of music and performance into the lives of peoples for whom that world is out of reach.” Service user, RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service, Leeds)
Leeds can now celebrate being the first UK City to have two Theatres of Sanctuary, the other being Leeds Playhouse.
The Opera North Encore Scheme particularly impressed the judging panel for its work with over 100 community groups in Leeds, offering free or heavily subsidised tickets to opera productions at Leeds Grand Theatre, as well as concerts, talks and films in the Howard Assembly Room. Opera North’s Community Partnerships team personally welcomes refugees and asylum seekers to performances as well as a variety of other events through the year. A Leeds City of Sanctuary staff member had this to say about the scheme:
“By holding a performance in a building they were familiar with, the world of performances and art was opened up to them […] These are people who often feel excluded from public life, and the outreach convinced them of the opposite, that they are included and important.”
Mary Brandon from City of Sanctuary said:
“Leeds City of Sanctuary are delighted to be awarding Opera North the Theatre of Sanctuary award. Over the years, they have gone above and beyond to ensure that people who have fled to the UK from war and persecution have found sanctuary and welcome when they step through the doors of the theatre.
Not only have Opera North opened their doors to sanctuary seekers, they have also reached out into communities to ensure the many joys of the opera can be experienced by all, including those who too often find themselves isolated and excluded from much of society. We’re very proud to have an arts organisation like Opera North in our city. We hope that the incredible work that they have done to show their commitment to becoming a place of safety, hospitality and support for refugees and asylum seekers will inspire others to follow in their footsteps and spread the culture of welcome into every corner of Leeds.”
The Theatre of Sanctuary award will be presented to Opera North at the Christmas Sanctuary Supper at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds on Thursday 20 December.