Refugee Week 2023: Survival Stories, Sails on the Winds of Change

The theme for Refugee Week is compassion, one of our values at Volunteering Matters. So we reflect on Survival Stories and the positive impact of art in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum to engage with their new communities.

Survival Stories is an Adult Social Action service provided by Volunteering Matters based in Ipswich, Suffolk. It aims to assist individuals affected by Serious Mental Illnesses (SMIs) who face obstacles to accessing traditional mental health services. This provision targets individuals aged 65 and over, as well as those from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, through a place-based, non-traditional, therapeutic approach. Our service benefits people of all ages, including young people, the community, men, women, children, and volunteers, especially those from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds who have often been unheard and unseen.

Our goal is to share relatable stories from adults who have struggled to access support through traditional pathways. This helps individuals feel less alone and gives them a broader perspective on their experiences. We use multiple therapeutic pathways to engage in activities that allow participants to recognise their own resilience and post-traumatic growth. The works produced by participants reflect these qualities, building self-esteem and improving the well-being of those who have experienced trauma and serious mental health challenges.

Survival Stories has benefited 174 Asylum Seeker Residents of Hotel Residents of Copdock, including 25 women and 30 children, as well as male residents of Novotel. The therapeutic value of our service empowers individuals to recognise and understand their own post-traumatic growth. It provides a safe and supported way to access new experiences, with some participants experiencing life-changing activities that have a positive impact.

Our recent Therapeutic Art Workshop, “Sail on The Winds of Change,” hosted for asylum-seeking residents at the Best Western Hotel, exemplifies the power of our service. Participants created a sail that depicted their journey to the UK, working together or individually to create their voyage through art. The cathartic experience resulted in some beautiful sails, painted and written in several languages, including Arabic, Persian, Pashto, French, and Kurdish. These expressions describe their migration experience , how they felt when they crossed the channel in a boat, and moving expressions of life before and after arrival in the UK. One participant said, “I will never forget the journey I made on the Boat, and that’s why I really enjoyed this activity today.”

Participating in therapeutic art workshops gives residents a sense of self-worth and helps them build trusting relationships in an often-challenging environment. The long-term impact of Survival Stories will vary from person to person; however, our recent experience with ‘Sails on the Winds of Change’ demonstrates the power of shared understanding and compassion to empower asylum-seeking communities.

If you want to learn more about Survival Stories, please contact, Project Manager Shamaila Waddle:

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