Art Refuge - the origins of the charity and how it has developed
Born in May 2006 as a result of the drive and determination of our founder Frances Fox, Art Refuge set up two safe creative spaces in Nepal and India in official centres for children, young people and adults in transit from Tibet as a result of political persecution. From 2006-12, thousands of children, young people and adults found psychological refuge in the Art Refuge programmes in these centres, where they encountered a sense of playfulness, had their stories witnessed, discovered a space for a sense of belonging and were encouraged to develop a visual language to help them transition into their new lives.
Our travelling exhibition Journey Into Exile toured the UK and further afield, educating the public on the arduous journeys undertaken by young Tibetan refugees seeking safety in Nepal and India.
In Nepal, our growing team of experienced registered art therapists (all visual artists and trauma specialists) delivered safe art making trainings for local psychologists, counsellors and teachers working with refugees and displaced populations since 2013.
In late 2015 and early 2017, our efforts focused on sharing our art and art therapy expertise with local carers in coping with the short and longer term effects of the devastating Spring earthquakes. Art Refuge provided training for over one hundred caring professionals, artists, architects and teachers from both local and international organisations, collaborating with local NGO's such as the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO) Nepal in the delivery of its programmes. The trainings, led by Naomi Press and Jess Linton, benefited, amongst others: UNHCR, UNICEF, Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Nepal (TPO Nepal), Snow Lion Foundation, Higher Ground Counselling, Sidartha Arts Foundation.
Through the skills of a core team of art therapists, we delivered a weekly programme of arts-based psychosocial spaces in the Calais refugee camp, northern France , mostly for adult men and unaccompanied teenage boys, in collaboration with Médecins du Monde , Médecins sans Frontières and Secours Catholique. Our work in France continued throughout the dismantling of the Calais refugee camp and subsequent displacement of the refugees within it and extended into the Dunkirk camp, hospitals, safe houses and community centres in northern France.
Led by art therapist Sarah Robinson, we also developed our presence in Bristol with a year long art therapy group for unaccompanied teenagers in 2018, following on from pilot projects with teenagers and with women.
In 2018, we delivered a pilot art therapy group for unaccompanied teenagers in Ealing, London, funded with a grant from Trust for London, co-led by art therapists Emily Hollingsbee and Katie Miller. A further pilot project took place in Belfast led by art therapist Jayne McConkey.
We continued our fortnightly presence in northern France, developing our project
The Community Table, and welcomed artists Majid Adin and Farhad Berahman into our team. Our work and methodology attracted attention from other organisations, researchers and academics. A series of cyanotype prints made collaboratively in the Secours Catholique day centre in Calais were shown in an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre.
We launched our new Photography Project in Bristol in 2019 and also took part in the ACAMH conference, with trustees Dr Ravi Kohli, Dr Kathryn Cronin and Bobby Lloyd contributing their expertise as keynote speakers. We were also invited to take a leading role in the art workshops of Drawing Together Project, a 4 year research project which is asking the question: 'How do young refugees rebuild their everyday life in Finland, Norway and Scotland?'
In late 2019, we officially changed the name of the charity from Art Refuge UK to Art Refuge. We also updated our charitable objectives to include a more international focus and further embrace research and training.
In early 2020 we continued our fortnightly delivery in Calais and extended our work to include training sessions in Paris at Le Cedre, Secours Catholique. However, in mid March, when the Covid19 pandemic reached the UK and the first lockdown took place, the Art Refuge team was however no longer able to travel to deliver our work in France. Our skills and experience in crisis support soon proved valuable to our team, our partners and others delivering frontline services in the UK and further afield.
We set up The Community Table Online as a regular, viable creative space in its own right that spanned the UK , France and further afield. We also delivered training for frontline workers in Psychological First Aid (PFA), trauma, copy and resilience, and in self-care.
In Kent, on the other side of the English Channel from Calais, we made new connections with Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) and welcomed artist Aida Silvestri into our team. We began tentative work in the Napier Army Barracks and then moved our project online to Thursday Art Support Group, largely for men dispersed to hotels across England.
Our Photography Project in Bristol continued in partnership with Creative Youth Network continued until early summer 2020, while we gradually shifted our focus to support foster-carers and others providing support to the young people themselves through our project Routes/Here.
2022 has been another pitiless year for people seeking refugee protection in the UK. In mid-December the loss of four lives in the English Channel reminded us of the at times deadly price paid by those using dangerous routes to sanctuary in the UK, while the Government refuses to provide safer routes that are wider than its narrow resettlement schemes. News of the Rwanda deportation plan, now deemed legal, on top of continued hostile reporting in much of the print and broadcast media, continues to alarm and distress many on either side of the Channel. This year, our work has also taken place as part of a growing coalition of over 500 refugee organisations working for a kinder, fairer, more compassionate and effective approach to supporting refugees in the UK, through Together with Refugees.
With your help, our core programmes in Calais, Folkestone, Paris, London and Bristol offered mental health and wellbeing support to more than 2,000 adults and unaccompanied young people displaced due to conflict, persecution, poverty and climate emergency. People who access our programmes have told us that sitting with others at The Community Table helps them feel less stressed, less isolated, and more grounded. Engaging in creative activity allows people, throughout the precarious process of seeking sanctuary, to access their imagination and be distracted from difficult thoughts. It allows them to share and preserve their skills, languages and histories, both cultural and personal. The Community Table helps them to cope better in the present and foster hope for the future.
In addition to our core programmes, members of the growing Art Refuge freelance team of artists and art therapists:
began work in Bristol with Ukrainian families arriving on the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ resettlement scheme
delivered bespoke trainings for over 200 people in France and across the UK
reached hundreds of children and their families through our online support project in Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda
took part in two research projects and one University-based collaboration
won an award for writing on The Community Table model
sowed seeds for several new small-scale projects and partnerships for 2023
Please read our full Blog post for a list of our 2022 achievements here.