In our first post of Refugee Week 2014, one of our interns takes a look at events taking place in Croydon, host and home to many of the unaccompanied young people with whom we work…
Geography is often invested with meaningful personal memories, memories that are usually invisible to everyone but the owner of the experiences. I remember how my granddad couldn’t travel through Belsen because of his experiences in the Second World War. Where the casual observer would just see farm-houses and fields along a motorway, he secretly relived the horror of the holocaust.
As the home of Lunar House, the headquarters of the UKBA, Croydon is, for many refugees, emblematic of the trauma of the asylum process, a trauma veiled from the majority of the British public. ‘To you, Croydon is a place’, remarks Buba, ‘with shops, with people, with trams. But for me and almost asylum applicants, it is different. Just hearing the word ‘Croydon’ takes you straight back to your asylum interview whether you want to think about it or not. It is not a geographic space for me. It is an emotional place.’ (The Poverty Barrier, Freedom from Torture).
Next weekend marks the start of the Croydon Heritage Festival (June 21st – July 4th), a week-long celebration of Croydon’s vibrant and cosmopolitan past, present and future. It is a memorialization of Croydon’s unique identity, uncovering the journey to modern Croydon through a palimpsest of architecture and oral history.
Populated by such a diverse mixture of different racial, cultural and social-economic groups, Croydon is a lattice of different voices and experiences. As a location populated with so many different communities, each stressing wildly different interpretations of Croydon’s history, the Croydon Heritage Festival is placing special emphasis on celebrating cultural diversity and contrast within Croydon. Rather than shying away from controversy, the festival is also hosting events that challenge the identity of Croydon, including lectures on the borough’s links with slave-ownership.
Perpanata, a refugee theatre group based in Croydon, is enabling young refugees and migrants to tell their individual stories throughout the Croydon Heritage Festival. Running since 2008, Perpanata has facilitated young refugees in creating plays about their experiences of UK life. Stressing open-mindedness and valuing inter-cultural dialogue, Perpanata has consistently created moving performances which voice the obstacles many refugees face in UK society. From the raucous and autobiographical Potato & Other Shorts, which comically portrayed one actor’s first experience of a trip to a dentist, to 2012’s Unifinshed Dream, a bold depiction of the limbo of refugee life performed within a city car park.
This year’s event, Somewhere Past, which has been created in collaboration with Attic theatre and Refugee Youth, promises to be an intimate and lively exploration of the hidden lives of young refugees and migrants in Croydon. Performances will take place on Tuesday 17 June at 7pm and Saturday 21 June at 2pm at the Museum of Croydon. Entry is free and there is no need to book.