Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Pilot Theatre

As part of York’s Culture Strategy, Make It York, York CVS, and City of York Council have come together to award funding of more than £60,000 to nineteen social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation, and mental ill-health across the city. 

The grants, which were made available via the Better Care Fund and Ways to Wellbeing, were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation, and social distancing. This series of case studies profiles each of the 2021 recipients: 

One of the projects supported by the grants is ‘Creative Connections with Sanctuary-Seekers’ – a project by Pilot Theatre which aims to creative a safe space to welcome sanctuary-seekers to York and encourage them to connect and socialise with others using a series of art, dance and craft sessions. 

Across a two-month period, Pilot Theatre delivered six creative sessions with families from sanctuary-seeker communities in York. Working closely with Stand and Be Counted Theatre, they partnered with organisations and freelancers to deliver the free activities across the city in cultural spaces, with the sessions covering a range of activities including drumming, singing, arts and crafts, dance, storytelling and creative writing.  

Participants ranged in age from early-years to middle-aged adults, predominantly from Syrian, Turkish and Nigerian origin. 

Firas Chihi was the lead practitioner working with Pilot Theatre on the delivery of the project, co-curating and co-facilitating all the creative sessions and liaising with participants. The sanctuary-seeker families were all known to him from his connection with Refugee Action York, which allowed them to instantly feel at ease during these sessions. Firas is also a multi-linguist, and delivered the sessions in Arabic and English, and interpreted for other practitioners as well. 

He said, “Working with Refugee Action York gave me the opportunity to realise that sanctuary seekers in York need a place where they can come together with their families, have a fun day, develop their skills, practise English, and get the chance to make some friends. This was made possible with the collaboration between Pilot Theatre and Stand and Be Counted Theatre. This project gave me the chance to better develop a relationship with our participants, understand their needs, find out what they enjoy doing the most and especially what makes them feel most welcome to a new city! It also made me realise that art and theatre can bring people together no matter where they came from or what their backgrounds are.  

“In this project we had participants from a range of countries and cultures – they mentioned that they loved the fact that we gave them a space where they can get to know each other. As one of the participants mentioned, she has been living in York for the past seven years and she has never had the opportunity to take part in any sort of activity like this. So I think it’s quite important to keep this workshop going.” 

The project proved successful in bringing sanctuary-seeker communities in the city together, developing community belonging, improving wellbeing, and increasing engagement with cultural activity. 

Amanda Smith, Executive Producer and Joint-CEO of Pilot Theatre, said: “The support from Make It York enabled Pilot Theatre and our partner organisations to actively engage with the local sanctuary-seeker communities of the city by offering free creative activities in welcoming and accessible locations. Bringing people together in this way has helped to strengthen social connections, improve wellbeing and to develop creative skills.” 

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