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Norwich’s latest Theatre of Sanctuary

Norwich Theatre has become the latest organisation in the city to be accredited as a ‘Theatre of Sanctuary.’ The theatre has been working hard over the past year to meet the criteria that show that they are committed to supporting refugees and asylum-seekers in Norwich.

Last year, they staged their Creative Matters season on finding refuge and sanctuary, including plays, films, workshops and an art exhibition.

In November Norwich Theatre worked alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet inspired by themes of conflict, banishment and home. Refugees from Norwich were among those who acted in the co-production, called ‘Palm to Palm.’ The RSC produced this short film, showcasing the play.

Under a recent rebranding, Norwich Theatre Royal, which includes the Playhouse and Stage Two, will now be known as Norwich Theatre. Stephen Crocker, the Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre, spoke of why becoming a ‘Theatre of Sanctuary’ was so important to him: “I believe that the only way to fight hatred and intolerance is with love and kindness, and the only way to stem the tide of division is by promoting a spirit of togetherness. Through my work I constantly see how creativity and creative spaces like the Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two have a vital role to play in bringing people together and that is why becoming a Theatre of Sanctuary is so important to me.

We have already done a lot of work around this area through two Creative Matters seasons, which saw performances, activities, workshops and discussions explore issues around what it means to be black and British, as well as a season exploring the reality of life for refugees and asylum-seekers. Indeed, this work won us regional recognition for our diversity work at the last Norfolk Arts Awards.

It is important that things do not end there and our programme of work is going to expand too. We will be setting up a weekly drop-in session where those seeking sanctuary can come to Theatre Royal to meet and connect with each other, sharing support and understanding. We will be offering bursaries to people from those communities to take part in our varied learning and participation programme, as well as giving the opportunity to them to both create and see performances.

The notion of Norwich being a City of Sanctuary was first articulated in 1567 as it was described as a city that embraced ‘Strangers’ who were originally refugees from the Low Countries fleeing persecution in their own lands. Three years after this, one person in four living here was a refugee who had come into the city within the previous decade. Hundreds of years later, the message has not changed.

I hope that this opening up of our three buildings and the work we do helps support the ongoing message that Norwich is a place where those original City of Sanctuary values are lived. Our venues and this city will always welcome refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers and anyone looking for a place to seek sanctuary. Norwich is for you whoever you are and wherever you are from.”