New East London Embroiderers: Stitching Stories

FAD Stories, New East London Embroiderers

For the past four weeks FAD have been running sessions on Wednesday evenings with a group called ‘Brighter Futures’ at Praxis in Bethnal Green; a centre for people displaced.

The Praxis centre does inspiring work with young asylum seekers and refugees, supporting them to campaign for themselves and others to improve the situation of displaced people in the UK.

Overall it’s been an inspiring and eye opening experience for all the team involved, especially for our young volunteers, many of whom have never met with asylum seekers or refugees before, or even had any knowledge of what it means.

It’s also been a real team effort with FAD volunteers, staff and young people of all nationalities coming together to realise a joint ambition – to create two garments to showcase as part of FAD’s New East London Embroiderers Project.

As project manager, I have also been actively involved in the making side of things. It’s amazing how something as simple as a needle and thread can bring people of so many different backgrounds and cultures together. Over the weeks it has become apparent that for everyone involved, embroidery has many different connotations. For many displaced people from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine it symbolises a pride in their cultural heritage and reminder of family bonds and rituals.

Last week, along with one of our young volunteers, Tom*, I sat down for the first time with a young man taking part in the project. Ben* came to this country in 2007 and is still without a status. Over the stretched fabric of an embroidery frame we spoke about what life is really like for him in the UK and what he left behind to be here.

It was an enlightening and at times saddening conversation, with all three of us learning something about the other’s life and culture. For young Hackney volunteer Tom* who is a similar age as Ben*, there was a realisation for the first time about what being an asylum seeker in London really means and the challenges young people like Ben* face on a daily basis.

When we began this project, the intention was to highlight techniques which are an integral and rich part of our British heritage, and to encourage young people to want to learn about and share their knowledge of this dying art form. From working with the ‘Brighter Futures’ group at Praxis, we have realised the potential embroidery has to bridge social gaps. It’s a chance for people from all backgrounds to come together – to meet over an embroidery frame, share their stories and work towards creating something incredible.

You can see the Praxis ‘Work in Progress’ embroideries at ‘The New Voices Festival’ in Bethnal Green on Saturday 30th June. They will be made into two garments by volunteers and displayed alongside a day of music, theatre and festivities.

For more information on the event please visit www.newvoicesfestival.org.uk 

Written by Fran Lawton, FAD Project & Communications Manager. * Please note that names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

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