Staff member
Walking, talking and befriending are at the forefront of Middlesbrough's celebration of Refugee Week 2021.

The week is an annual UK-wide festival and growing global movement marking the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

A diverse programme of cultural, sporting and educational events brings people together from different backgrounds to promote understanding of why people are displaced, and the challenges they face when seeking safety.

The aim is to ensure refugees and asylum seekers are able to live safely within inclusive and resilient communities, where they can continue to make a valuable contribution.

This year's theme - We Cannot Walk Alone - is inspired by a line from Martin Luther King's historic ‘I have a dream' speech, and is an invitation to extend a hand to someone new.

Leading the local initiative on behalf of Middlesbrough Council and social housing provider is Teesside musician and ‘Wild Rover' Mike McGrother.

Mike said: "Like so many others living in Teesside I'm the product of those who sought refuge over the years.

"My ‘Wild Rover' guise came about when I first re-traced the steps of my own family from County Monaghan in the 1840s but, after walking their walk back in 2016, it became a passion of mine to encourage everyone to walk in the footsteps of others and empathise with their story - not their label.

"We Cannot Walk Alone invites us all to remember that our lives are intertwined and we are inter-dependent as a human race."

To mark this year's event, Mike has curated a series of walks bringing together the refugee community with members of his Pals Programme - Teesside men who find ways to connect and learn by walking, talking, singing and socialising together.

The mixed groups will share and celebrate their collective ‘home' and explore themes of Middlesbrough's arts and cultural scene, football and industrial heritage.

Mike added: "I want to share the stories of Middlesbrough and perhaps reveal aspects of the town and borough that newer arrivals were less aware of.

"Combining our walks with some food, some music and, most importantly some friendly chat will, I hope enable us all to learn a little more about ‘community' - what we have in common and how to better understand each other."

Other initiatives include work with pupils at TVED and Newport, Abingdon and Green Lane primaries around what it means to be an asylum seeker/refugee, with children painting rocks and then hiding them across Middlesbrough for others to find and re-hide.

Newport artist Carol Newmarch is working to support three groups of four asylum seekers to create a work of art each on batik, with the finished pieces due to go on display at various venues across the town.

High Seas Trapeze will be offering a two-hour circus class at Breckon Hill Community Centre today (Wednesday, June 16, 6pm - 8pm) to the young people working with Hemlington Lynx, alongside a chance to talk about the overarching themes of Refugee Week.

Jolande Mace, Middlesbrough Council's Strategic Cohesion and Migration Manager, said: "Middlesbrough is a town built on migration and one that prides itself on being welcoming and friendly.

"Many refugees have made Middlesbrough their home and speak fondly of the welcome they have received and the friendliness of its residents.

"Refugee Week celebrates the fantastic contributions these individuals make to society and communities, which is evident in Middlesbrough through the skills and experience they have brought and the community initiatives they are involved in.

"I invite everybody to reach out a hand in friendship to someone new, someone outside of their comfort zone, or someone who has had an experience they haven't had themselves, and walk besides them in friendship and welcome."

Lyndsey Coe, neighbourhood development manager at Thirteen who have supported the activities with a £1,500 grant from the Thirteen Community Fund, said: "Supporting people to live happy and secure lives is at the heart of everything we do.

"Over the years, we've offered homes to refugees from some of the most hazardous areas of the world and as a welcoming community, Middlesbrough is one of those areas that's really well placed to offer a safe home to people looking for a new start.

"But it's not just refugees who benefit - when we welcome new people into our communities we can all benefit from the mix of cultures.

"So I'm pleased we can support refugee week, working in partnership with Middlesbrough Council and Mike as it'll help us bring more people together and build the communities we all need, now and in the future."

  • Mike McGrother's ‘I Shall Not Walk Alone' walks take place on:
Thursday, June 17, 11am

The Boro - a look at football and art. Starting from the Boating Lake café at Albert Park, the walk will end at the Bridge Café with a drink and snack.

Sunday, June 20, 11am

The Tees. Start at North Ormesby market place at 11am for a six-mile circular walk, ending with a veggie lunch

For more information on Refuge Week events in Middlesbrough, email Jolande at Jolande_Mace@middlesbrough.gov.uk

For the latest local updates and information, visit www.middlesbrough.gov.uk/covid19
For information on local help and support, visit www.middlesbrough.gov.uk/helpboro

For advice for clinically extremely vulnerable residents call Middlesbrough Council's support line on 01642 729777

The latest advice from Government and Public Health England can be found at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus