It’s amazing how you can suddenly find yourself organising a festival! I am a member of community group Hastings Supports Refugees, and back in autumn 2016 we had been thinking about how we could raise more awareness of the refugee crisis locally and encourage people to get involved.
We were then contacted by the Ashburnham Trust, offering us space to hold an event. We didn’t realise this meant a beautiful 220 acre estate in the East Sussex countryside! How could we say no. The first festival came together in a very short time thanks to many people offering to help. Hastings is a very creative town and lots of local musicians and artists got involved. The first festival had 500 people, and the following year we doubled that. With the continued support of the Ashburnham Trust we are now getting ready for our third festival taking place on Sunday 23 June, 12-8pm.
Top jazz musicians Sarah Jane Morris and Gwyneth Herbert are headlining, along with Afrobeat band Samaki, Juliet Russell and the Vocal Explosion Choir, Syrian trio Jamal, Alaa & Zahi and more. There will be poets programmed by the Whole Shebang and a special theatre performance by PSYCHEdelight, a company who bring together European and refugee actors. There are creative workshops and activities for all ages, a treasure hunt, tours of the garden and grounds and swimming in the lake. At the heart of the event is a communal picnic and everyone is invited to bring food, bring friends make new friends.
A key aim of the event is to foster a sense of community with refugees who have made a new home in Hastings. We have some wonderful families who have settled in the area and who are getting more involved in the festival, including one young woman who will be running an arts workshop on the day. The festival also raises funds for Hastings Supports Refugees and promotes Hastings Community of Sanctuary and the fantastic Hastings & Rother Buddy Project. All these groups working together is bringing people together and creating a really strong network of support in the area.
The atmosphere at the festival is such a happy one, a day of shared humanity in the face of so many troubles around the world. This year we’re supporting the Lift the Ban campaign, fighting to enable people seeking asylum to work while their claims are processed rather than living on meagre benefits and wasting their skills.
Everyone is welcome to join us for a great day for all the family.