By Alex Kempton – Media and Communications Lead for Hastings Community of Sanctuary
On Thursday 13th June we officially launched our new Creative Café and Exhibition space – OPEN. Sitting in the heart of St Leonards with a beautiful view out onto the sea, this new collaboration between I Love Mel and the Hastings & Rother Refugee Buddy Project promises to become a hub of activity for those seeking sanctuary in our town. Whether seeking sanctuary from war, from domestic violence, from mental health crises; at some point in our lives we will all be seeking a place of sanctuary and OPEN is that place says Rossana Leal, the Founder and Organiser of the Project.
Giving her speech to a room so packed there are people hovering outside waiting to get in, Rossana explained the inaugural exhibition “From Hastings, With Love”. Featuring photographs by Andrew Grainger, the exhibition is a stunning representation of friendships being built here in Hastings. Each photograph features one of the newly arrived families, relocated via the Syrian Vulnerable People Resettlement Project, alongside their Buddies; local volunteers who have given their free time to welcome them to their new homes.
Speeches follow from Simon Finlay, the Hastings Borough Council Officer in charge of the SVPRP across East Sussex, as well as the Mayor of Hastings Nigel Sinden. Both speak of the great success of The Buddy Project in helping the newly arrived families acclimate to their new town, and of the importance of cultural exchange and understanding in these fraught political times. This is picked up in the text posters which complement the photographs adorning the walls of OPEN. The writing explains the background of the Hostile Environment: how did we get here; what does it mean; what can we do? A call to action, to resist what is happening to immigration policy in this country.
This is only amplified by the speech of local woman Fatima Elaysi (full text available here). Originally from Sudan,
Fatima came to Hastings in 2018 along with her family as part of the SVPRP. Fatima talks of the welcome she has received, and the care and empathy shown by her buddies. The room erupts into applause as she informs those gathered that she has an offer to continue her degree at the University of Brighton.
A glance around the room shows why this Project is so successful. People from all walks of life are here; Hastings locals; people who have moved here from other parts of the UK and other parts of the world either by choice or seeking safety. All joined in friendship as the chatting and laughing bouncing from the walls of OPEN affirms. The amazing food and drink, supplied by Liban @ Kino and Penelope’s Pitstop, is taken out to be enjoyed al fresco on the well used outside tables and chairs where the conversations and laughter continue.
If this launch event is anything to go by, the new OPEN space is bound to be a vibrant and friendly space, open to everyone.