Last month, Chapter House in Durham Cathedral served as the venue for a unique musical performance.
Stories of Sanctuary, a community song writing group comprising Syrian refugees who settled in County Durham, local residents and students from the University of Durham, performed original songs to a sold-out crowd of 170 people. For many on stage, it was their first time singing in front of a live audience.
The event did not go unnoticed. Soon after, Stories of Sanctuary were invited to sing in front of MPs at the Houses of Parliament. In light of this success, the group is now crowdfunding a UK tour.
The group’s story is a remarkable one, made all the more special by the history that brought them to this point.
Since 2016, Durham has served as a ‘City of Sanctuary’, open to those who have fled war and persecution. The recent title is a continuation of some of Durham’s earliest history. As far back as the 9th Century, a community of monks sought refuge in the area after they were exiled from their home on the Island of Lindisfarne.
This heritage is reflected in the Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral which, until 1624, gave the guilty and wrongly accused protection from the law for 37 days.
With the conflict in Syria ongoing, 2016 saw this spirit of sanctuary extended to refugees fleeing the embattled country.
The musical project itself began in the summer of this year. Inspired by the city’s sanctuary past, local folk singer Sam Slatcher set about creating a community driven group where people could share their stories of finding sanctuary in the north-east.
With help from viola player Raghad Haddad of the National Syrian Orchestra, who is herself a refugee, the stories, poems and anecdotes told in the group’s workshop were transformed into songs. The album, Stories of Sanctuary, was released on 9th November.
The group has now set up a campaign to crowdfund a UK tour. The songs all reflect a modern tale of upheaval, displacement and recovery; yet channel a deep history of sanctuary in this country.
By touring the UK, Stories of Sanctuary will not only make connections through song, but inform people of a deeper truth about British identity.
For more information about the crowdfunding campaign, visit the Stories of Sanctuary Crowdfunder page.