Woman opens her arms with an open mouthed expression during a drama workshop

Image © Curious Monkey, an award-winning theatre company of sanctuary in northeast England. Curious Monkey ran creative warm-ups throughout the Refugee Week Slow Conference

A look back at six weeks of workshops on arts and culture for change, 04 February – 11 March

It took us a while to decide how to go about the Refugee Week Conference this year. We missed the lively gatherings we’ve had in London, Bristol and Coventry in recent years, where we came together in our hundreds and made new connections over music and tasty food. We weren’t sure how that energy could be achieved over Zoom.

In the end, we hit upon the idea of a ‘Slow Conference’: a series of workshops spread out over six weeks, to minimise screen fatigue and (we hoped) enable more people to take part.

What followed was a month and a half of rich conversations, in which learning was generously shared and many new connections were made. Over 760 people signed up to the programme, which kicked off on 04 February. Most sessions were attended by over 100 people, who joined from across the UK and internationally, including from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Greece.

As has often been the case this year, an approach borne of necessity has opened up new possibilities and will no doubt change how we do things for years to come (although we’re not giving up on having lunch together again!)

A space for reflection and learning

“This are such important and valuable messages – I will take these away with me and keep them at the core of my approach – thank you.”

“These safe and civil spaces for conversations are so important, so thank you and it is great when they lead to positive actions!”

The aim of the Refugee Week Conferences is to prepare together for Refugee Week, a festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees, in which anyone can hold their own event or activity (Refugee Week 2021 is 14-20 June, and the theme is ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’). The conferences are also spaces for the Refugee Week network to build skills and share learning about the wider work we all do on social change, all year round.

The Slow Conference workshops ranged from practical sessions (how to use media and social media to promote events; how to reach new audiences) to deeper discussions about practice (supporting lived experience leadership; the politics of storytelling).

Participants brought curiosity, openness and generosity to the conversations, and told us that there was much they would take away with them.  You can see videos and write-ups of the workshops here.

Building the movement

“This is all part of our movement building – trust that our energies connect and inspire – and Refugee Week events maybe ignite us to be more combined and being the difference we want to make.”

“THANK YOU SO MUCH for your energy and thought and beautifully paced slow conference. Great we can all walk this path together, not alone.”

“A superb opportunity to learn from each other.”

One thing we kept hearing during the Slow Conference was how much participants valued the opportunity to network. We’re proud that Refugee Week is a space where we can come together to deepen our connections, ask ourselves the bigger questions and grow and develop as a movement, all year round.

During one of the Slow Conference workshops,  participants said they would to continue sharing questions and learning after it was over, so we set up a Googlegroup (email list) for the Refugee Week and Platforma network, which now has over 75 members. You can sign up to the group here.

What’s next?

The Refugee Week Slow Conference may be over but the movement continues! We will continue to hold our Refugee Week and Platforma Monthly Meets in the run up to Refugee Week, which are free, friendly online meet-ups on the first Thursday of every month, for people interested in arts, culture and social change to share learning and expand their networks. Visit our events page to see what’s coming up.

This timeline to Refugee Week 2021 also shows the resources that we will be sharing in the run up to June.

As always, if you have any questions or would like to have a chat, do get in touch.

For videos and write-ups of the workshops, visit the Refugee Week Slow Conference resources page.

For details of future meetups, visit our events page.

To sign up to the Refugee Week and Platform Googlegroup, click here.


More Feedback from Attendees

“Thanks so much, it has been wonderful to connect and hear about all the amazing creative activities going on!”

“Such a great conversation. Lots to go away and think about. Thanks for the space!”

“This are such important and valuable messages – I will take these away with me and keep them at the core of my approach – thank you.”

“I am so touched by the depth of the experience here. It’s given me a lot of food for thought.”

“Thank you so much for this super engaging discussion and for sharing such powerful ideas. A lot of learning for me and I hope for many others. And a lot of hope for doing better work with and by / about people who experienced asylum, refuge, war – and those who do research or re-interpret these stories through art.”

“So good to meet so many new positive people!!”

“Thank you so much to Counterpoints Arts! It has been so great to hear what everyone is doing and to have exciting and inspiring events to look forward to.”

“Given the hostile environment which surrounds us this has been a light in the darkness.  Grateful for you all.”

“Thank you for a brilliant session with active participation, creativity, sharing, discussing hard questions and networking – again!”

“Thank you, this is such an interesting, useful conference. And I like slow!”

“Thank you so much everyone who has organised and contributed to these wonderful events – they have been brilliant and so engaging and thought provoking. Lovely to meet you all – until we meet again!”