Guest post by Emma Skeet, Friendship Arts Projects

I travelled to Athens in 2016 with two artist friends, wanting to show support for the thousands of refugees stranded there on their journey trying to find a safe place to live. It was one of those choices which shaped the story of my life. Having watched the unfolding disgraceful global inadequacy in response to the growing refugee crisis and feeling powerless to help, we decided to try and make a difference.

We were warmly welcomed in Athens at an abandoned school and the main Port, both squatted by hundreds of families, with classrooms and port receptions divided up into neat, curtained living spaces 10ft square for 5 or 6 people in each. The asylum seekers, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, felt hopeful that people like us wanted to help and were happy to share their stories with volunteers who had turned up from all over the world. We weren’t part of an organised charity, just ordinary people treating others as we would hope to be treated if we were in such a situation.

Grateful for something for their bored children to do, parents and older siblings joined in our workshops drawing onto new t-shirts for each child to keep. Patient, positive, exhausted fathers and teenagers knelt with younger children to draw beautiful flowers, hearts and smiling faces onto their t-shirt. Please see Every Life Matters on my website.

Once back in the UK I wanted to continue the artivism from Athens and carry out my promise of sharing the stories from people I had met, some now new Facebook friends. I googled Norwich – Artist – Refugees and found my future fellow captain of The Friend Ship who had had a similar experience in the Calais camp.

Our aim was to share the stories of people we had met and through the arts try and raise awareness of, and support for, refugees locally and globally with arts and story-sharing workshops for refugees, schools and the community.

Nearly two years later we are starting our third big project, determined to use the arts to bring about positive social change with little or no funding, but huge amounts of goodwill and support from other local artists and the community wanting to contribute their time, skills and venues.

The Friend Ship has now set sail on our new HumaniTea party project which will include workshops over the next 6 months with:

  • Norfolk artists and displaced people at Norwich International Youth Project
  • Norfolk artists and the community with the Makers Festival at The Forum
  • Schools at the Millenium Library

Inspired by Judy Chicago’s 1970’s installation The Dinner Party , HumaniTea party will result in an art installation of a table set for 10 ‘invited’ well known refugees (local and global) with the plates, bowls and placemats representing each guest and celebrating their contribution to our world. The exhibition will take place during Refugee Week and More In Common weekend 17-23 June 2019.

The project has had an amazing start with our workshop creating clay plates for the table setting. Young refugees and asylum seekers at Norwich International Youth Project worked happily and hard on the first stage of face shape and features of their chosen ‘invited’ guests with Norfolk ceramic artist Kate Vogler.