Held on Sunday 21 June 2020, on Isolation Station Hastings
Gathering together in a spirit of community, solidarity and welcome – entertained by some of the best musicians and artists around – has always been at the heart of Festival by the Lake, the annual event run by Hastings Community of Sanctuary and Hastings Supports Refugees. Who could have known that the act of gathering would be taken from us.
Along with so many others, we cancelled this year’s festival – which would have been our fourth – when lockdown was imposed. It was sad to think that we wouldn’t be working with our friends at Ashburnham Place, who had so generously hosted the event since the beginning, and the many other people and organisations who made it possible.
It also meant that we would be losing our main fundraising event, and with the situation facing refugees in the camps in Calais, Lesbos and elsewhere made even more intolerable by Coronavirus, we knew we had to do something. That’s when the festival went online. The fantastic Hastings Isolation Station immediately agreed to host us and the festival team sprang into action. Within a matter of weeks, we had musicians and poets confirmed, speakers lined up and publicity ready. We sold tickets for a live Zoom picnic. Artists all over Hastings and beyond made unique, beautiful postcards on the theme of ‘home’ that were sold to raise funds. Our friend Abdulkhalek baked his wonderful baklava, with the support of Home Ground Kitchen, to deliver to people in time for their picnics. Raffle prizes were donated by a host of local businesses.
The event itself passed in a bit of a blur for me. I had a great time hosting alongside Emma Joliffe – we waved at people watching in their gardens and living rooms and had lovely messages from those watching on Facebook. We had wonderful performances, learned how to make Coffee Creatures; heard from local artist Helen Dodaki about how her experiences as a refugee were expressed through her artwork; listened to the moving story of John Baptist Lwanyaga’s time in detention, and how photographer Giles Duley uses food to connect with people in war torn countries. The baklava was delivered, postcards and raffle tickets sold, and thanks to the fantastic folk of Hastings we made almost £2000!
The funds were quickly donated where they’re so desperately needed. To frontline groups Calais Kitchen, Refugee Biriyani, Care4Calais and Asylum Aid. These groups survive on small donations from communities like Hastings, and once again we were proud to be able to contribute. Thank you to everyone who supported Festival by the Lake Online, and we hope to be able to gather with you in person again next year.
Polly Gifford, Festival Organiser and Co-Chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary