Conference attendees

(c) Ambrose Musiyiwa

What did we learn at the national Refugee Week Conferences in London and Bristol this February? Here’s a (non-exhaustive!) round up of the conversations we had. We hope you’ll join us to celebrate Refugee Week 2020, 15-21 June

“I loved the whole day and took away so many ideas and met some great people who hopefully we can continue to do work with and build networks throughout the year” – Attendee at Refugee Week Conference Bristol

“Still buzzing from #RWConference2020 It was one of the few spaces I’ve been to and felt like there was a good representation of people with lived experience both on stage and in the audience. Amazing work from @RefugeeWeek + @CounterArts for creating a truly inclusive space.” @JamalaAbdullahi

The build up to Refugee Week begins in earnest every year with the Refugee Week Conferences in February, which are days of inspiration, workshops and discussion in preparation for Refugee Week.

Refugee Week is an annual festival of arts, culture and educational activities, coordinated by Counterpoints Arts, that celebrates the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees (this year’s dates for your diaries are 15-21 June).

Held in partnership with Counterpoints Arts’ Platforma Arts and Refugees Network, the Refugee Week Conferences are spaces for a wide range of people to come together to reflect and share learning about the work they are doing (or would like to do) in solidarity with refugees, especially in arts/ culture and social change.

In recent years interest in the conferences has outgrown the number of seats, so in 2019 we expanded to two events, one in London and one in another region (last year’s was at the stunning Coventry Cathedral).

This year the conferences were in London and Bristol, with over 200 participants gathering at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London on 10 February, followed on 13 February by over 100 people from across the South-West and beyond, who were hosted by Bristol Refugee Festival (co-producers of the Bristol conference) at the Trinity Centre.

Refugee Week is an open platform, with hundreds of Refugee Week events organised independently across the UK every year. Everyone is welcome to get involved by organising or taking part in an event or activity, and for Refugee Week 2020, we’re inviting you to respond the theme of ‘Imagine’.

Refugee Week is both a grassroots movement and a mainstream cultural festival, and its strength lies in the diversity of its network, which ranges from national arts institutions to schoolteachers, stand up comedians to community activists, and spans every region of England and all four nations of the UK – as well as, increasingly, towns and cities across the world.

Looking around the room at both conferences, you could feel this: never mind the weather, people were coming together from North, South, East and West – people working in refugee organisations, arts and culture or education, people with first-hand experience of displacement and those engaging with this issue for the first time.

Together, at workshops in London and Bristol, we asked…

How arts institutions and practitioners can become more inclusive of refugees: With Mandla-Rae Nkomo, Hafza Yusuf and Daniela Nofal from the Refugee Week Leadership Project, participants discussed the importance of not defining refugees by their experience of displacement – the need to make space for sharing a whole range of experiences, including positive stories, and to see refugee and migrant creatives as artists before migrants or refugees. Working long-term and building authentic partnerships were identified as key ways to ensure impact. Participants also highlighted the importance of involving people with lived experience not just in programming, or participatory projects, but also in decision-making, including through representation in positions of power within organisations.

How we should approach refugee work in challenging environments: Friends of the Drop In Sunderland (FODI) shared the importance – again – of working long-term, and of partnerships, in bringing different communities together, and achieving a lasting impact (their FODI meets FOYF project sees newly arrived people finding commonalities with a dance group for local elders). In a second workshop, the organisers of Greece’s Yellow Days Festival shared their experience of creating bridges between communities through food, arts and conversation.

How we can involve young people: Coram Young Citizens shared insights into how we can make our events and projects more inclusive of young people from migrant backgrounds, highlighting the importance of meeting young people ‘where they are’ – for example by doing initial outreach in young people’s existing spaces, and having young people themselves encourage and facilitate new participants (See Coram’s excellent write up of the workshop here).

How we can make sure we are using empowering language: Facilitators from Bristol Refugee Rights’ VOICE Project led participants in identifying words and terms that focus on shared humanity, rather than defining people by their refugee status, concluding that while changing the language we use may not by itself change oppressive realities, it can help people to see displacement in a fresh way.

How we can better engage ‘harder to reach’ communities: In Bristol, David Barclay from the Good Faith Partnership was joined by organisers from across the South-West, who shared challenges and ideas on community engagement, including the importance of researching needs and barriers in advance, identifying the networks you need to link with to reach a given community (perhaps starting by mapping the networks you already have), offering something that people want or need, and involving refugee communities in events and projects right from the start.

How we can use media and social media to publicise Refugee Week activities, reach wider audiences and help change the narrative about refugees: See IMIX’s top ten social media tips here and presentations below, and look out for more tips and templates in the Refugee Week 2020 media and social media packs, coming soon! (Sign up to the Refugee Week newsletter to get them straight to your inbox).

How we can find funding for our work in arts, culture and social change: Tom Green, Coordinator of Counterpoints Arts’ Platforma Arts and Refugees Network, discussed approaches for applying to Awards for All, Arts Council and Heritage Fund.

How we can connect climate justice and migrant justice: Wretched of the Earth (London) and April Humble (Bristol) facilitated discussions on the importance of recognising links between colonialism, migration and climate change, and exploring ways to connect our activism on migrant rights with climate justice.


Above: Keynote by MD Mominul Hamid from the Refugee Week Leadership Project: ‘Imagining the Dream of Higher Education for Asylum Seekers’

London images (c) Ambrose Musiyiwa:


Above: The Refugee Week Leadership group hosted the London conference and led a workshop at both events


Bristol images (c) Bnar Sardar:


Above: Singer and actor Taban Osman taught us a song in Kurdish(Bristol)


Above: Performance by oud duo Nabra


For more images, see Flickr albums for London here and Bristol here


For a more detailed account of the two conferences, see the London and Bristol conference programmes, and the round-up of the London Conference on Twitter Moments

Workshop notes and Presentations:

Imagining Welcome Through Arts and Culture

Involving Young People

Refugee Week in Challenging Environments 1

Refugee Week in Challenging Environments 2

Funding Your Refugee Week Programme

Top ten social media tips (IMIX)

Refugee Week 2020: Working with local and regional media (IMIX Presentation)

The Power of Social Media (IMIX Presentation)


Bristol Refugee Festival

Amnesty International

Trinity Centre

Our brilliant teams of volunteers in London and Bristol

All of our wonderful national partners who make Refugee Week and the Refugee Week Conferences possible

Speakers performers, and workshop facilitators:

Maurice Wren, Chair of Refugee Council
Ahmed Nouri, Hafza Yusuf, Mandla-Rae Nkomo, MD Mominul Hamid and Mohammed AlBaz, Refugee Week Leadership Project
Alexandra Philippovskaya, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow
Compass Collective and British Red Cross’s ‘Refugee and Befriending’ Programme
Ashish Ghadiali, Wretched of the Earth Climate Justice Collective
Sandra Watt and Ashkan Dabbagh, Friends of the Drop in for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Sunderland
Coram Young Citizens
Daniela Nofal, Refugee Week Leadership Project 2019
Sophie Besse, PSYCHEdelight
Niall Mann and Katherine Maxwell-Rose, IMIX
Nina Alonso and India Rose, Yellow Days Festival, Athens
Tom Green, Platforma Arts and Refugees Network, Counterpoints Arts
Welcome Kitchen
Haven Coffee
Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol
Taban Osman, Actor and Singer
Nabra, Oud duo
VOICE Project
Fiona Hamilton, Writer and Facilitator
David Barclay, Good Faith Partnership
April Humble, Writer on border security, climate change and migration
Moveable Feast