How the Pod Collective are workng in a variety of art forms with refugees and asylum seekers across Greater Manchester in the run-up to Refugee Week 2014

Photographer Anna White and embroiderer Emily Hayes formed Pod Collective in 2012, combining their skills to work with grass-roots organisations that support refugee and asylum seekers in Greater Manchester. Anna is a documentary photographer and has completed several long-term projects working with LGBT, hoarders and the elderly, creating a disparate archive of work that documents people’s everyday lives. Emily uses embroidery as a medium to tell stories; beautiful tactile images are made that are meaningful to the maker whilst resonating with the viewer.

Whilst studying for her PGDE one of Emily’s placements was at Rainbow Haven, a centre that supports refugees and asylum seekers in Gorton and Salford. She developed a strong relationship with the centre, and in 2012 Emily went back with Anna to volunteer, finding it to be as welcoming as ever. This is where their initial idea for creating Pod Collective came about, as both believe that facilitating art workshops helps to grant people a voice and become a part of a community in which it is often difficult to engage because of language barriers. Art, however, enables people to be creative and be on an equal footing with others around them.

Refugee Week gives everyone a chance to celebrate refugees in their communities, bringing people together, giving people a voice and highlighting talents and skills that refugees bring to the community around us. As the co-founders of Pod Collective, Anna and Emily applied for Arts Council funding to collaborate on a participatory project with refugees and asylum seekers from Rainbow Haven who produced twenty-seven banners of embroidery and photography. The aim was to unravel the participants’ personal stories, creating a visual dialogue to share with the wider community through exhibiting them over Refugee Week 2013.

Refugee Week 2013 was a real success; Emily and Anna made great relationships through the workshops and exhibitions which prompted them to create an even larger body of work for Refugee Week 2014. Working with Rainbow Haven as their initial placement, they are focusing on the collective stories of refugees and asylum seekers, in particular people’s relationship with their belongings and the memories they evoke. After receiving an Arts Council grant and funding from Forever Manchester’s Seed Fund, they are able to hold workshops with Rainbow Haven, Boaz, City of Sanctuary, Manchester City Art Gallery, North City library and the People’s History Museum, where they intend to explore people’s commonalities. They feel that commonalities between people are the defining part of this project and will show this by combining the work of refugees and non-refugees, illustrating the common elements people have in their lives.

The project for Refugee Week 2014, One Thing, is taking two visual routes: photography will explore people’s memories and experiences, with participants making a visual record of some of their treasured items, whilst also incorporating elements of writing, poetry and audio. Secondly, embroidery encapsulates these memories and stories as each person makes a panel of work upon which they can stitch poignant images or writing. The separate panels will eventually be joined up to form a large-scale fabric sculpture, which the public will actually be able to enter in order to admire the artwork and read the stories. They are really enjoying the project, if you would like to track their progress please look at: