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  1. ITV Report

Leeds is the first UK city to have two Theatres of Sanctuary

Leeds is now the first UK city to have two Theatres of Sanctuary, with Opera North joining Leeds Playhouse theatre as one of only a few in the country.

Opera North has become the first opera company in the country to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status by City of Sanctuary UK in recognition of its ongoing work with refugees and asylum seekers.

To become a Theatre of Sanctuary, a company must demonstrate commitment to making refugees and asylum seekers feel valued, celebrated, and included.

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The accolade was given to Opera North as a result of its initiatives to increase accessibility to music, drama and opera, for giving refugees and asylum seekers a voice on stage, and for building important social and creative connections for individuals who can feel isolated and excluded, living in an unfamiliar place and often having suffered traumatic and life-changing experiences.

The panel was impressed by the Opera North Encore Scheme which currently numbers over 100 community groups in Leeds, including many which provide emotional and practical help to people seeking sanctuary in the city.

The experiences of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are also reflected on stage and within Opera North’s artistic programme.

The Company’s 2018 Resonance artist development programme included a project by Thandanani Gumede, which explored the theme of migration and the difficulties of visa renewal.

Mary Brandon from City of Sanctuary said:

Leeds City of Sanctuary are delighted to be awarding Opera North the Theatre of Sanctuary award.

"Over the years, they have gone above and beyond to ensure that people who have fled to the UK from war and persecution have found sanctuary and welcome when they step through the doors of the theatre.

"Not only have Opera North opened their doors to sanctuary seekers, they have reached out into communities to ensure the many joys of the opera can be experienced by all, including those who too often find themselves isolated and excluded from much of society. We’re very proud to have an arts organisation like Opera North in our city.

"We hope that the incredible work that they have done to show their commitment to becoming a place of safety, hospitality and support for refugees and asylum seekers will inspire others to follow in their footsteps and spread the culture of welcome into every corner of Leeds.”

– Mary Brandon, City of Sanctuary

Madeleine Thorne, Head of Community Partnerships at Opera North, said:

We feel honoured to be the first opera company to have our work with refugees and asylum seekers recognised in this way and to become one of only a handful of Theatres of Sanctuary in the UK. We hope that having the award will encourage many more people in difficult circumstances to engage with us and to discover what we can offer them.

“We’re committed to sharing the work we create in music, theatre and performance as widely as possible, ensuring that no-one feels excluded or wrongly believes it is not for them. Music is tremendously universal, and through our Community Partnerships work over the last few years we have seen the incredible power that opera has to connect and communicate with people from all over the world, overcoming language and cultural barriers to create new shared experiences for many.

"We have worked hard at building relationships with and between community groups across Leeds and we are delighted to be opening up the world of opera and classical music to people who might not otherwise have become involved in our work.”

– Madeleine Thorne, Opera North
  • Others have expressed their appreciation for Opera North:

I am writing to express my gratitude for the chance to experience fantastic music, an outstanding performance and overall a great evening of culture.

"The work you do with the communities in Leeds is very much appreciated and I hope you are able to carry on bringing the amazing world of music and performance into the lives of peoples for whom that world is out of reach.”

– Service user, RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service, Leeds)

By holding a performance in a building they were familiar with, the world of performances and art was opened up to them.

"These are people who often feel excluded from public life, and the outreach convinced them of the opposite, that they are included and important.”

– A staff member from Leeds City of Sanctuary

It is an absolute pleasure and delight to see the emotional wellbeing of attendees improve so much after experiencing a performance, and for this to continue for days and weeks after the event. It has a direct and immediate positive impact on the emotional wellbeing and integration of refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds.”

– A staff member from Meeting Point, a refugee support organisation in Leeds
  • The Theatre of Sanctuary award will be presented to Opera North at the Christmas Sanctuary Supper at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds on Thursday 20 December.