Opera North has retained its Theatre of Sanctuary status after being reaccredited by for its ongoing work with refugees and asylum seekers. It remains the only opera company in the country to have been recognised in this way.
To become a Theatre of Sanctuary, a company must demonstrate a commitment to making refugees and asylum seekers feel valued, celebrated and included. Organisations are reassessed every three years to ensure they are still meeting all the criteria.
“They create equality between those that can afford and those that have nothing, to go and experience something together.”
– Tabita, who is seeking asylum in Leeds
The reaccreditation panel were particularly impressed by the range of initiatives Opera North has implemented to increase accessibility to music, drama and opera for everyone – together with the steps it has taken to make people with experience of migration feel comfortable and accepted at its venues.
It also commended the company’s determination to give refugees and asylum seekers a voice on stage, particularly through its People’s Lullabies project which has seen participants performing a traditional song from their home country on film, and its Resonance workshop programme for music creators of colour.
Opera North Encore Scheme currently numbers over 100 community groups in Leeds, including many which provide emotional and practical help to people seeking sanctuary in the city.
As part of the scheme, refugees and asylum seekers are offered free or heavily subsidised tickets to opera productions at Leeds Grand Theatre, as well as concerts, talks and films in the Howard Assembly Room. They are personally welcomed by the Community Partnerships team to performances, special events and celebrations throughout the year, and are offered bespoke workshops and taster performances by the company’s singers and musicians in their own venues.
“… fear to trust is one of the biggest barriers to going to the theatre or to experiences in general. Having these positive experiences allows the participants to become ambassadors for access to theatre and other cultural activities.”
– Rose McCarthy, City of Sanctuary judging panel
Opera North is always seeking new ways to enable musicians who have been forced to leave their home country to continue to develop their artistic practice. A Resonance residency has been offered to composer Babak Mirsalari, originally from Iran, who has refugee status, and the company are also currently working with Iranian singer Amir Behmanesh to create original music that blends traditional Iranian and English folk music.