Migration Matters: Sheffield festival aims to bring people together

“It's about everybody and their history, and their contributions to what Britain looks like today, what Sheffield looks like… migration matters.”

By Lisa Wong
Wednesday, 12 June, 2019, 23:00
Sam and Tchiyiwe of Migration Matters.

The positive impact of migration will be honoured with a citywide celebration of the Migration Matters Festival.

Taking place in Sheffield from June 14 to 22, and with its biggest line up to date, the eight-day festival aims to bring people together, regardless of individual differences.

It coincides with the UK's 21st annual Refugee Week, offering a mix of theatre, music, film, dance, spoken word, academic talks, and food.

All events are 'pay what you decide' to ensure the festival is open and available to all, though people are encouraged to donate if they can, as some proceeds from the festival will go towards charities supporting the refugees and asylum seekers of Sheffield.

Headliners include poet and spoken word artist Benjamin Zephaniah and his band The Revolutionary Minds, who will be performing at The Leadmill on June 21.

Lowkey, a British Iraqi rapper and activist, is another one of the headline acts, performing at the Abbeydale Picture House on June 20.

Nikesh Shukla, writer and editor of the award-winning The Good Immigrant, will also be joined by Yorkshire MEP and former Sheffield Lord Mayor Magid Magid at the Crucible Theatre on June 18, where they will share their thoughts about immigration and ‘Brexit Britain’.

It is advised that tickets are reserved beforehand for these and many of the other events, due to the anticipated high demand.

The festival is the biggest of its kind in the country. Its director Sam Holland said: “Driven by this year’s Refugee Week theme – ‘You, me and those who came before’ – the festival sheds light on how Sheffield and the UK has been forged by the generations of people whose cultures have shaped and made it a richer place. While the country has been plunged into uncertainty – a word we’ve all grown weary of – it’s essential we don't lose sight of what makes this island great: its people.”

Sam believes Britain used to be historically far more sympathetic to refugees and new arrivals.

He describes the festival as a platform for people to ‘share their voice, particularly for people that feel marginalised or underrepresented in their communities and to celebrate free movement’.

“It is timely for many reasons because we are reaching the highest levels of migration,” he said.

“The festival is all about claiming back the narrative a little bit and trying to say, actually, this is what is so great about Britain. We have all of these incredible cultures and these are their stories. Rather than being dogmatic and preachy, we want people to experience the art these people want to share, and that way, almost understand the unconscious of what migration really is and how beautiful it is.”

Sam said: “I felt like it was important that Sheffield hosted something. Being the first City of Sanctuary, it was important that there was an event that really properly marked the people coming into the city. We want to celebrate that, to find something positive in all the massive negatives as well.”

Sam believes the portrayal of such groups in the media was causing further marginalisation, so he wants the festival to boast about Sheffield’s brilliance and why multicultural Britain is so important.

He also said people should attend, even if they aren’t initially convinced about the event’s message. “It would be amazing if people did come along just out of curiosity. We want people to come and see exactly what the stories are because that is where the power of these events lies. They have the power to change people’s minds.”

Tchiyiwe Chihana, assistant producer for the festival, added: “Quite significantly this year, the festival runs parallel with Refugee Week, so it encompasses all migrant stories. It's about everybody and their history, and their contributions to what Britain looks like today, what Sheffield looks like, the food we eat... Everything and anything that's there is to be celebrated and recognised as being a contribution from the migrant community. In whichever form, be it three generations ago or ten, migration matters.”

The festival is now in its fourth year. For 2019, more than 60 individual happenings are planned, representing approximately 70 different countries. Organisers have ensured that some venues have been picked outside the city centre, to make sure communities play a part.

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LGBTQI issues and mental health – highly relevant to those seeking asylum – will also be highlighted.

The festival aims to provide a 'safe space' for people to feel welcome.

Events kick off at Theatre Deli on June 14 with musical and dance acts from across Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Tchiyiwe said more people are becoming aware of the festival and more artists are wishing to get involved.

“It is the ethos behind what you are doing that makes it what it is,” she said.

The festival has continued to grow each year and this year's event is predicted to be another big success.

Planning is already underway for next year's Migration Matters, with two big artists already scheduled in.

See migrationmattersfestival.co.uk for more information.

‘Share your stories’

Although I was born and raised in the UK, I know what it feels like to feel underrepresented and at times discriminated against, writes Lisa Wong.

With negative stereotypes and a lack of positive role models, mental health is a growing problem for all, but this is even more so the case for individuals from black and ethnic minority (BME) groups.

I am your local Facebook funded community news reporter trying to educate the wider society and give a voice to those who are not being heard in Sheffield.

Through my project, I want to give individuals from those underrepresented groups the chance to tell their life stories and to build their currently lacking trust with the media.

I hope to find out what the current issues are surrounding mental health in these groups and how individuals and organisations are going about this, using my platform to raise awareness and create positivity.

Attempting to reach more BME groups will play a large part of my project, however, I am still keen to hear from anyone that is doing their bit in aid of mental health.

If you have a story that you want to share, I'd love to hear from you.

Send me an email on lisa.wong@jpress.co.uk or give me a call on 01142767676 extension 3126.