Songs inspiring new music communities!

A refugee written song from a songwriting project in Durham has inspired another in Northumberland.

Like a Butterfly’ which captures the hardship of leaving home amidst war and seeking sanctuary in the UK was written by Syrian refugees in Durham as part of an Arts Council funded community project. The song was performed alongside other original pieces the group had written. (See below for the song)


So inspired by the performance, a visiting community of people seeking sanctuary in a small town in Northumberland decided to run their own songwriting group. Anne, one of the volunteers of the group, played the song from the CD in their weekly English classes which had a huge impact:

“I took them to a small room in the school and I played the song and there were tears streaming down their faces” (Anne)   

The song, which has been professionally recorded by singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher, featuring the Sanctuary Seekers Choir chants “These new streets I walk and breathe have set me free. This city I came to offered Sanctuary”    

One of the sanctuary seekers, Sabina, expressed “When I first heard it I cried. It’s about me – I left home, work and everything. We learnt this song in our English class, and it’s helped me learn new words. I was singing it at home and my daughter asked what is this song you’re singing and I told her it’s a very beautiful song we learnt”

A year of touring! Highlights from the Stories of Sanctuary project

Citizen Songwriters was inspired by the success of our flagship project, Stories of sanctuary!

The project began in the summer of 2018 after singer-songwriter Sam Slatcher was awarded Arts Council funding to run a project that brought together residents of the city of Durham with newly settled Syrian refugees.

A year later the project had not only resulted in a series of workshops where original music had been written by participants, and a professionally recorded album, but ALSO a UK wide tour…

Stories of Sanctuary after a rapturous performance at Durham Cathedral on 21st March 2019

The choir consisting of a pool of 30 participants are all seeking sanctuary of a kind – from Syrian refugees in County Durham, to asylum seekers living in Teesside, to local residents who sing with the choir, to a viola player from the National Syrian Orchestra.

This year’s tour emerged after the Stories of Sanctuary project visited the Houses of Parliament in November 2018 as part of partner organisation City of Sanctuary’s annual Sanctuary in Parliament event. The group found the experience so empowering, they decided to run a Crowdfund Campaign and by January 2019 had successfully raised £5500, with an additional £2000 in donations off line.

Stories of Sanctuary visiting the Houses of Parliament in November 2018

The tour began in the North East in March, launched at Durham Cathedral to coincide with the St Cuthbert Festival, followed by a performance at ARC Stockton. The story of St Cuthbert features as one of the stories within the project, as a much-loved northern saint whose resting place in Durham Cathedral came about after a long and painful exile from the Vikings in the 8 – 10th century in Northern Britain.

In June, the project made the most of Refugee Week with a performance at the Migration Matters Festival in Sheffield as well as Hull University, one of City of Sanctuary’s University of Sanctuaries.

For Aisha from Guinea Bissau, the tour made her realise that acting and singing is the future she wishes to pursue:

“Telling stories, putting people together from different backgrounds to tell their stories, sharing their experiences, it’s the most beautiful thing”

Refugee Week Concert Sheffield

In August, the project were back on the road and visited two more cities: Stourbridge for the International Festival of Glass and Leicester Cathedral for Artreach’s Journeys Festival International.

Sabah, a member of the choir and tour coordinator talks of her experience singing in the performance:

“Music is the language of the world. When I was singing I felt every word I sang. I sang from my heart to all the hearts of the audience. I wanted to tell them that despite pain and sadness, we are brave because sometimes you just need to hope and have faith that things will work out.”

Stories of Sanctuary performing in Leicester Cathedral on 27 August 2019

The project will visit one more town in November 2019: Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire who collectively contributed almost £2k to the Stories of Sanctuary Tour Crowdfund Campaign.

Welcome Town, Stockton

Over the weekend of 28 – 29th June 2019, Citizen Songwriters partnered with performance artist Natasha Davis and ARC Stockton to produce ‘Welcome Town’, an art installation engaging members of the public around themes of welcome for those seeking protection from war and conflict.

Sam Slatcher from Citizen Songwriters brought together participants from a series of workshops he facilitated in Stockton over May and June 2019 to perform impromptu songs of welcome.

One of the songs documented the story of Bahkit, someone seeking sanctuary from the war in Sudan.

Speaking In My Mother Tongue

In my heart I say hello, can you hear me, I don’t know. Why would you? You don’t know me.
Winds were blow’n when I arrived, I didn’t want to go outside. I stayed at home for a week.
Suitcase in the corridor, someone is moving in next door. He’s asking me which language do I speak.
I told him in my mother tongue I told him just how far I’d come.
 He said “Oh you’re my brother” and he hugged me!

Hello, you’re smiling!
                                                                     Yes, I’m smiling!
                 Why are you smiling?
                                                                                                Because smiling is beautiful

Brother I look up to you, you saw the sun before I knew. You’ve walk these streets, you’ve heard it’s tune. You say to me, you have to seek all these opportunities. It could break you, you warned me.
You say that there’ll always be, a banquet for us all to eat. A cup of tea, the first thing when you rise.
You’re speaking in my mother tongue, you’ve been walking with me all along.
You said “Oh you’re my brother” with those kind eyes.

Speaking in my Mother Tongue is a song inspired by Bakhit’s story, including some of his own words. Bakhit who comes from Sudan, like many others seeking sanctuary from war, found himself alone in Stockton with no choice but to live in a shared house. To his surprise, his neighbour – also seeking sanctuary – greeted him in the same language (Arabic) despite coming from a different continent. His neighbour became a brother to him, someone he looks up to, to  help navigate through this unfamiliar new landscape. This is what ‘Welcome Town’ means for Bakhit.

Citizen Songwriters

Most people don’t realise their creative potential.

Something I’ve come to realise since becoming a freelance community songwriting facilitator, is that people are inherently creative. But don’t always realise it… Yet, when you give people the excuse to create something uniquely theirs, the magic happens!

Last Thursday (16th May 2019) I met with a new group on a Citizen Songwriters course, in partnership with Middlesbrough Stronger Communities. It was one of a number I’ll be facilitating this summer and within the two hours, the group had found their collective voice and were singing “We are Boro” in different languages to a catchy tune that one of the participants had come up with.

Citizen Songwriters is a new initiative that grew out of a project I started last year called Stories of Sanctuary. bringing together people who have sought sanctuary from the civil war in Syria, with their local community. What’s unique about Citizen Songwriters is giving ordinary people – not necessarily with a music background – the excuse to create something uniquely theirs.

The song that emerges in each workshop is of course entirely dependent on the group and the stories they wish to share. My role is to facilitate and if I do my job well, it often involves leading from the back. I might be picking out chords that seem to fit the tune that the group have come up with. Or in some cases – like in Middlesbrough last week – someone from the group might know a few chords and I’ll encourage them to lay something down to give the group something to work with.

Stories of Sanctuary began in this way. And 9 months later, the participants were on the stage singing not only a song they’d learnt and practiced, but one they’d actually written themselves.

Citizen Songwriters is all about helping diverse groups explore their roots, understand different stories of belonging and allowing ordinary people realising their extraordinary creativity.

If you or your organisation would be interested in hosting a Citizen Songwriters course, please e-mail us here, or sign up to receive regular updates on upcoming courses and opportunities.

Simone For Stories of Sanctuary-1715
Stories of Sanctuary workshop in Durham, July 2018.