Sunderland’s local communities unite to celebrate culture and creativity

Community groups from across Sunderland came together last month to perform and share in a moving showcase of culture and storytelling.

The project, entitled Who Do You Want To Meet?, brought together six community groups, who had never previously met, to collaborate in creating a performance which was shared on 30 June at St Lukes, Pallion.

Delivered by Sunderland Culture, in partnership with North East arts organisation Helix Arts, the participatory project took place over eight weeks, during which the groups worked alongside professional artists to create their performances.

Hendon Writer’s Group, based at Back on The Map in Hendon, worked with asylum-seekers and refugees through community organisation Friends of The Drop-In (FODI). Local writer, James Whitman, supported participants in creating stories which celebrate the commonality of human experience across different cultures. Culminating in an audio installation, the project featured intimate, entertaining and emotional anecdotes and short stories exploring childhood, love and loss. 

Helix Arts’ Falling On Your Feet, a dance ensemble for people aged 65+ based at St Luke’s Neighbourhood Trust in Sunderland, joined forces with asylum seekers and refugees, who are part of the FODI weekly Women’s Group. Supported by artists Tracey West and Anna Hall, the pairing choreographed a contemporary dance performance, which explored the cultural and personal symbolism of scarves and veils.

Finally, Young Asian Voices paired up with the residents of Benedict Court Retirement Home. Together they are exploring a variety of arts activities and will share their work later in the year.

Corinne Kilvington, Producer for Who Do You Want to Meet? at Sunderland Culture, said:

“The evening was a truly wonderful celebration of shared creativity and everything the groups have experienced over the past eight weeks.

“By bringing together people from different communities, backgrounds and walks of life we wanted to tackle issues around social cohesion, in particular those who may feel isolated or excluded, using art as a universal language. 

“We had incredibly positive feedback from the participants, who found it both interesting and rewarding to meet individuals from different communities and to explore all the things we have in common despite generational and cultural differences. 

“The project was also hugely important for refugee participants in making introductions into the local communities, the new life ahead of them while also helping to improve practical language and writing skills.”

Partnering with Sunderland Culture, Helix Arts supported Who Do You Want To Meet? volunteers and partners through their Make Dance Happen – a ‘learning by doing’ programme that gives participants the skills, knowledge and networks they need to establish and run their own dance ensembles within their local community.

Helix Arts Creative Producer, Susie Batey, said: “The ensemble from St. Luke’s Neighborhood Trust have successfully delivered a number of dance classes for older people, helping participants improve their balance, flexibility and reduce fear of falling. With support from Sunderland Culture, they helped develop a piece of work especially for Who Do You Want To Meet?

“It’s great to see how far the group has come since completing Make Dance Happen.”

Who Do You Want To Meet? was delivered by Sunderland Culture through the Great Place programme, funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund.