In the outskirts of Nottingham we met a climate change denier who rambled about Einstein and implied that global warming was a conspiracy. His parents were miners. Will the decline in coal use have consequences for communities built on mining?
After many miles of rural reflection it was refreshing to be back in a big city. The many-hued crowds and variety of national and religious costume was striking after a long journey through less diverse counties.
On St George’s day we attended the celebrations in the town centre. A huge crowd gathered before a gigantic St George’s Cross where knights in armour, Robin Hood and the Mayor in his chain of office waved and smiled. We had feared such scenes would be accompanied by ugly nationalism. In fact it was a harmonious day of celebration. Men and women and children sported red and white flags and hats or red roses in their lapels. One woman suggested the many migrants would be staying at home and suggested Eastern Europeans were ‘taking our jobs’, but her friend told an admiring story of a Polish man who had cycled to Britain to work.
Police and security guards were positive in their description of the crowd’s behaviour and Nottingham as a diverse yet integrated city. Later an Iranian woman spoke of St George’s day as an opportunity for people to show a natural pride in their culture and history. Perhaps cities like Bristol have been overly sensitive in banning such celebrations?
Nottingham City of Sanctuary
Colleen Molloy, the City of Sanctuary National Development Officer has been hugely supportive of our Pilgrimage and has connected us to a brilliant network of contacts, the first of whom we met in Nottingham.
Our host in Nottingham was Milly, a student of Arabic at SOAS, London, taking a year out to volunteer with refugee organisations as an interpreter. She spoke to us about her experiences in Palestine, London and Nottingham and accompanied us to meet a Sudanese man, Abdul who had arrived as an asylum seeker 5 weeks ago and was based in Hull. He was delighted that Milly was able to speak to him in Arabic and even help him translate some of his poetry into English. Abdul owed a debt of gratitude to Eleftheria, whom we also met. El’s family were from Greece and it was on a visit there that she had been moved to take up volunteering with refugee organisations. In time she became a full time employee at the Mojatu foundation. She also leads a scheme to provide free phone credit for refugees. At Mojatu El supports refugees with language classes and training for driving theory tests.
Milly, El, Abdul and another Sudanese refugee accompanied us to an evening of music and poetry entitled Wordjam. This was organised by an Iranian refugee who had found creative writing groups to be her first opportunity to engage with communities in England. We heard performances from British, Gambian, Zimbabwean and Italian artistes and our new friend performed his own compositions in Arabic on the spur of the moment. It was wonderful to witness this boost to his confidence as a new arrival and to hear his heartfelt words in a beautiful language.
The next day we went to the Nottingham Refugee Forum to meet Barbara the volunteer coordinator, a Slovenian migrant who told us of the important work of advocacy and support which the centre offers to the many new arrivals in Nottingham. Their reputation is such that refugees based in other towns travel to use their facilities and have to be encouraged to find resources more local to them. Barbara told us that she had been able to challenge the conservative views of her family and had seen a change in her mother’s attitude to migrants and refugees in a climate of concern at mass movement across Slovenian borders.
We also met Farmin, who arrived unaccompanied as a teenage asylum seeker from Kurdistan more than a decade ago. He was applying for a permit from the home office to visit his country of birth and was excited at the potential reaction his family and friends would show when the boy they saw leave returned as a man. He was happy and outgoing and told us of his life as a barber, his relationship with an Asian-British woman and his experiences as a young asylum seeker beaten by Turkish police. Farmin was very excited by our walk and expressed a wish to join us or to see a programme of walking societies for refugees and asylum seekers.
On our way out of Nottingham we met a family of East African Asians, long established in Nottingham and grateful for the increase in tolerance. We met a taxi driver from Pakistan who recalled walking in the mountains of his homeland. In her ‘One Love’ cafe we met Sonia. Born in Jamaica she had migrated to Britain 40 years ago and raised three children, she had subsequently fostered many deprived children from a range of background including British and more recently an Eritrean refugee.
You can listen to the performances we recorded and interviews on the links below:
A poem from an anonymous refugee:
Eleftheria Ktenas :
Barbara and Billy, from The Nottingham Refugee Forum: