With the Right to Remain Toolkit’s 10th anniversary celebrations in full swing, last week Esther, Yumna and Leah travelled to Newcastle upon Tyne to host their fifth Toolkit festival.
Partnering with West End Refugee Service and Asylum Matters, the day was spent learning and educating, fostering new relationships, and building radical solidarity with organisations and groups in the North East.
We felt fortunate to be rounding off our UK tour in this region, which boats a powerful and well-connected voluntary sector, spanning a number of towns and cities including Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, Durham, Sunderland, and Hartlepool. This allowed for a rich and diverse crowd to join us on the day, as we welcomed a mix of lived experience campaigners and volunteers and support staff of a wide range of organisations, including those on the intersection with other human rights issues such as homelessness and LGBT+ rights.
Having delivered Toolkit festivals in four cities over the past four months, the team were well versed in workshop aspects. The attendees considered the stages of the asylum process, before joining as a large group to deep-dive into the process. Yumna took one group off to look at how to prepare for the substantive interview, while Leah taught the others the difference between giving legal advice and legal support, an activity always hotly debated.
However, this Toolkit festival stood out to us for three reasons: firstly, the atmosphere of the space was so conducive with leaning in an inclusive and relaxed way, in both the physical space, and how attendees occupied it. Our venue was the beautiful Recovery College Collective, which is adorned with comfy chairs, seating areas, and rows of windows. Our workshop style is casual and encouraging, which allows for varied contribution. The result was an informal learning space, where attendees knew they weren’t being tested and could just have a go.
Fostering this sort of environment brings me onto my second point: engagement was so incredible from attendees because they felt comfortable enough to speak about their own experience, either personally of the system, or ways they have supported others. For example, after the legal advice/support session, one attendee told us they were so relieved to have been given clarity on what they can and can’t do: and it had given them confidence about the support they can provide.
The third striking element of the day was the level of networking and communication happening between attendees throughout the duration of the festival. It was so inspiring to look around the room and see people genuinely connecting with each other; something that was greatly helped by our fantastic caterers, La Chilenita (if you are ever in the North East, I implore you to check them out!) Towards the end of the day, it was sometimes hard to bring everyone back to the main group for want of people chatting away!
We closed the session with a panel discussion. Welcoming Chris Boyle from the North East Law Centre, Amer Ratkusic from The Red Cross, and Jen Laws from Asylum Matters, we looked at the future of the migration justice sector, considering the Illegal Migration Bill (now an Act, as of yesterday). We wanted to know what kept the panel hopeful, amidst the horrific policies being pushed forwards by our government. All were in agreement that a unified community response was essential in keeping positive, with Amer noting that these workshops are about “understanding the true value of being human”.
One of our central aims of our Toolkit festivals is energising people, and helping to create confidence and connections. Not only did we achieve this, but the day instilled some much needed hope for the future. It reaffirmed that the work Right to Remain does is relevant and important; facilitating a safe space for people to come together and build strength as one. Jen Law’s put it beautifully when she said;
“It’s about collective power. Today has been amazing being in the room with everyone, knowing we have such experience across the region that we can draw on. We have to appreciate the amazingness of each other!”
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