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Theatre of Sanctuary status shows that Norwich will always embrace refugees and asylum seekers

PUBLISHED: 09:44 10 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:44 10 February 2020

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre, says the city will always be a welcome place for refugees and asylum seekers

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre, says the city will always be a welcome place for refugees and asylum seekers

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Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre , explains why Theatre of Sanctuary status is so important to the city

It is always heartening, especially for staff and volunteers who work so hard day in day out, to receive recognition of any kind, whether it is a fantastic review, an award for a production or project, or simply a formal thank you for a great initiative or piece of customer service.

This month's announcement that we have received Theatre of Sanctuary status for our three venues is particularly important to me and at this time. This means making a public commitment to being a place of safety, hospitality and support for refugees and asylum seekers

Every day, we hear more and more stories that paint a picture of society in this country being defined by division, and therefore fracturing itself by focusing on difference rather than commonality.

At its best, this manifests itself as toxic patriotism, but at its worst, it can become pure racist hatred. This is something we have seen in Norwich already this year as the headlines demonstrate.

I firmly believe that this is very much a one-off and does not reflect the views of those of us who live and work in this fine city.

I also believe that the only way to fight hatred and intolerance is with love and kindness, and the only way to stem the tide of division is by promoting a spirit of togetherness.

Through my work, I constantly see how creativity and creative spaces like the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two have a vital role to play in bringing people together and that is why becoming a Theatre of Sanctuary is so important to me.

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We have already done a lot of work around this area through two Creative Matters seasons, which saw performances, activities, workshops and discussions explore issues around what it means to be black and British, as well as a season exploring the reality of life for refugees and asylum seekers.

Indeed, this work won us regional recognition for our diversity work at the last Norfolk Arts Awards.

It is important that things do not end there and our programme of work is going to expand too. We will be setting up a weekly drop-in session where those seeking sanctuary can come to the Theatre Royal to meet and connect with each other sharing support and understanding.

We will be offering bursaries to people from those communities to take part in our varied learning and participation programme, as well as giving the opportunity to them to both create and see performances.

The notion of Norwich being a City of Sanctuary was first articulated in 1567 as it was described as a city that embraced "strangers" who were originally refugees from the Low Countries fleeing persecution in their own lands.

Three years after this, one person in four living here was a refugee who had come into the city within the previous decade.

Hundreds of years later, the message has not changed. 

I hope that this opening up of our three buildings and the work we do helps support the ongoing message that Norwich is a place where those original City of Sanctuary values are lived.

Our venues and this city will always welcome refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and anyone looking for a place to seek sanctuary.

Norwich is for you whoever you are and wherever you are from.

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