Hastings Community of Sanctuary
Sanctuary Festival is a community focused event that brings people together through culture. In particular, we work in our local community to raise awareness of the issues of sanctuary, asylum and migration, and to celebrate the contribution people from different cultural backgrounds make to the places we live.
Cultural strategy ambition(s)
Culture for everyone - Hastings' cultural offer is inclusive and accessible - there are chances for people to take part in culture and creativity in their community.
Proud to live in Hastings - Culture builds connections between communities to improve the quality of life for local people.
What did you do/what happened?
Sanctuary Festival is an annual event that started in 2017 and that takes place at the end of Refugee Week in June. It has been hosted at Hastings Museum & Art Gallery since 2021. Free and open to all, the festival features live music, creative workshops, talks & discussion, community stalls, food and friends. The creative programme introduces people to artists and musicians from around the world, and invites local artists to share the platform. In 2022 we also held a Comedy Special evening in partnership with Freedom From Torture East Sussex and the Hastings Comedy Fringe. Approximately 1,500 people attended the festival in 2022 and more than 40 volunteers are involved in making it happen.
Who was involved?
A huge number of artists have been involved over the years. Highlights of the 2022 Festival include The Romany Diamonds presented in partnership with Shiva Nova and festival favourites, Syrian musicians Jamal & Alaa presented in partnership with Best Foot Music. Local musicians included rising star Izzy Withers, funk ensemble Plunk and Barefoot Opera.
Creative workshops were run by Afri-Co-Lab, Transition Town Hastings and artist Sarah Evans. 15 local community groups had stalls and we started a new partnership with Ark Alexandra Secondary Academy, who are applying for their School of Sanctuary Award through the City of Sanctuary national charity.
The talks programme included speakers from Freedom From Torture, the UN High Commission for Refugees, The Refugee Buddy Project and Stand Up To Racism.
Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?
Sanctuary Festival brings people together from different parts of the community in a way that normalises relationships, away from the dramatic headlines surrounding refugees and migrants. Enjoying a day out, eating together, taking part in workshops, hearing stories and music from each-others' cultures all help build relationships and understanding on a personal level.
Each year there is a communal activity that everyone can contribute to on the day. In 2022 we asked people what nature means to them and how it provides sanctuary, creating an installation under the trees outside the museum.
When did this happen, over what time period?
25 & 26 June 2022.
What was involved in terms of logistics, time or resources? (i.e. how much work did it take?)
Sanctuary Festival takes eight months of planning each year. The team is nearly all voluntary, although all artists are offered a fee. Funding comes from the National Lottery Awards For All.
Is this a first for Hastings, regionally or even nationally?
I believe Sanctuary Festival was the first large public event in Hastings explicitly showing solidarity with refugees and people seeking asylum.
Where did you get inspiration / the idea from for this activity?
The event began as a fundraiser for community group Hastings Supports Refugees and a way of raising awareness of the issues within the wider community. Hastings has such a vibrant cultural scene, and lots of artists wanted to be involved and show their support. Through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, we knew that families were going to be arriving to start a new life in the town, and we also wanted to build on the culture of welcome and community support that is so strong in Hastings, and create an event that everyone could enjoy together.
What difference has this made to your organisation, and the people involved?
Sanctuary Festival has become a valued part of the Hastings cultural calendar and has helped Hastings Community of Sanctuary reach a much wider range of people within our community. Partly due to the success of the festival, Hastings Community of Sanctuary has just registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) which means that we can raise more significant funding to support and grow the event.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to continue to develop the festival, particularly through year-round creative projects that share their outcomes at the event in June. We want to work with more schools through the Schools of Sanctuary scheme and to support and involve more people with lived experience of seeking sanctuary in planning and creating content for the festival.
What advice would you give another arts organisation or creative practitioner looking to do something similar / work in Hastings?
Work in partnership, give yourself lots of planning time, look after your volunteers, ask for help when you need it and remember to take a moment to enjoy what you have created.
How can your experience address commonly encountered challenges to help other arts organisation or creative practitioner working or based-in Hastings?
Continuing to run the festival on a voluntary basis is unsustainable in the medium to long term. We are in the process of trying to shift from a voluntary model, to being able to pay people to manage and deliver the event. This experience might provide a useful example for other groups in a town where so many events are organised on a voluntary model.
"It's easy to feel helpless in the face of what's happening around the world - in Ukraine, Afghanistan and closer to home in the Channel. But we can have an impact in our town and in our communities. People in Hastings have always shown amazing support for refugees and people seeking asylum and Sanctuary Festival exists because of that support. It's a great family day out that also sends a strong message of solidarity - we hope you will join us."
-Polly Gifford, Sanctuary Festival Director