Some of the refugees who featured in the film made the journey to Chester to witness the spectacle.
Described as ‘stunning and very moving’ by CheshireDEC, the leading provider of global education services in Cheshire, the event included a procession of lanterns across the city which led to the gardens of Chester Cathedral where the film Walk My Journey was seen for the first time last Thursday evening by enormous crowds which filled Werburgh Street.
The film, the brainchild of city organisation Theatre in the Quarter, followed the nationally acclaimed theatre production in 2017 The Lost Boy which was created with refugees keen to share their stories.
Matt Baker and Jo McLeish wanted as many people as possible to have an insight into the incredible journeys made by asylum seekers who have made their way from horrific situations in their home countries to the UK in the hope of sanctuary.
Using the company’s impressive legacy of working with schools across Cheshire, the team decided to combine the stories of the asylum seekers with a choral underscore led by hundreds of children from over 25 schools across Chester and beyond.
The film also featured four teenagers from Chester, Sophie Sterry, Michal Borkowski, Theo Lavin and Lauren Rees.
Chester city centre was bathed in lanterns inspired by the theme of refugees, journeys and home which were made especially for the event, led by artist Russell Kirk.
The procession of lanterns included live singing from the University of Chester Choir.
Seven hundred children (the same youngsters featured in the film) gathered below the enormous screen in the gardens of Chester Cathedral.
The crowd of thousands fell silent as the film was screened for the first time, accompanied by live singing from the children and teenagers.
Two of the refugees who were present at the event, Fanzenah and Muntser, were moved to tears as they witnessed the film, the lanterns and the children’s voices.
The film, produced by Jo McLeish and filmed by Andy Davies of TheVideoCompany, was followed by a dramatic announcement from Dr Jeff Morgan, senior trustee of national charity City of Sanctuary, that Chester had joined several other cities across the country in becoming a recognised City of Sanctuary.
Dr Morgan followed this announcement by saying: “I was delighted to feel an integral part of this evening’s magical ‘happening’. The film, music and the lanterns will form a beautiful memory for me.
“Thanks so much for the privilege of feeling so closely associated, yet again, with the Theatre in the Quarter’s magnificent team.”
Mike Johnson, chair of Chester City of Sanctuary, was present to hear the announcement.
He said: “We were delighted to launch our Chester City of Sanctuary group during the inspirational Walk my Journey event. We plan to play a major part in developing the welcome that Chester provides to refugees.”
Producer of the event Jo McLeish said: “Walk My Journey has been the most incredible project to work on.
It’s turned into a bit of a global project, in the sense that whilst it has been performed here in Chester, we have had the opportunity and privilege of meeting and working with people from across the world, from Eritrea, the Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Chechyna.”
“And just for a moment, we did walk in their shoes.”
Jo added: “We could not have brought this project to life if it were not for three very special organisations.”
“Our charity partner, City of Sanctuary, St Sebastians in Salford and Open Doors in Hull, both who run vital frontline support services for refugees and asylum seekers and who gave us the opportunity of working with Mubarak, Muntser, Shayhar, Fiori, Fazenah and Rizvan.”
The event received excellent feedback from audience members, participants, parents and partners alike.
Sue Rumney, Year 5 and music teacher at Waverton Primary School, said: “It was a privilege for us to be involved. The whole experience has impacted the children.”
Jan Tapp, governor at Chester Blue Coat School was in the audience and said: “This really shook up our thoughts and feelings, shocked, sad, inspired, angry. Thanks for involving our children, what an experience for them. Proud to live in the latest City of Sanctuary.”
Rachael Borman, director of Amasing, said: “What a fantastic night! Well done to Theatre in the Quarter, Russell Kirk, the wonderful refugees, University Choir and all the amazing schools and teachers for collaborating together to create such a moving, special production.”
Artistic director Matt Baker said: “Only the day before we heard on national news of another Syrian teenager being attacked on a school field.
“I hope the message that this project delivers can only help to prevent further atrocities like this to people who have left horrendous situations at home in the hope that there may a welcome in a land such as ours.
“I am proud that Chester has become a City of Sanctuary.”
He added: “The incredible response has inspired the team to want to roll out the entire project across the UK and that Walk My Journey has already inspired towns and cities such as Bury and Hull to get involved.”