For sanctuary seekers living in Stockton, Monday’s Coronation Bank Holiday was celebrated with a liberating day out to the countryside, with a trip all the way from Stockton to Stanhope, via the Weardale Railway.
Their trip, which took place on the ‘Big Help Out’, was organised by Citizen Songwriters as part of their new Storylines initiative with the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership to bring artists and local communities together using the train to celebrate the region’s rail heritage.
The group of 10 from Stockton Baptist Church began their journey on the 10.31 Northern service from Thornaby to Bishop Auckland, connecting with the 11.30 Bishop Auckland West to Stanhope on a heritage train run by Weardale Railway.
At Stanhope Station, they jumped on The Story Train, Citizen Songwriters’ new community arts initiative, a first class buffet car that once belonged to LNER’s High Speed Train stock. On The Story Train, the group sang songs and shared stories of their most memorable journeys, from fleeing life-threatening situations to finding friendships in the North East.
For many in the group it was the first time visiting the English countryside. The group consisted of people from Senegal, DRC, Cameron, Niger, Pakistan, Albania and Iran who have all come to live in Stockton, seeking sanctuary from war, political conflict and other dangerous situations.
Not dampened by the drizzling weather, everybody’s spirits were high as the group continued to sing on the station platform, delighting other passengers. They continued to sing on the train back to Bishop Auckland and met with the Bishop of Durham who this week has been raising concerns in the House of Lords about the Government’s Migration Bill and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly children and pregnant women.
Katharine Lam, the group lead, said “the day provided a wonderful opportunity for the sanctuary seekers to forget their stressful situation and enjoy the moment, meet new people, practice and learn English, visit a beautiful area, travel on the trains and express themselves creatively which is great for their wellbeing and cultural integration”
For Anxhela, a sanctuary seeker, “this was a new experience for me, I learnt more about the railways, enjoyed the countryside views, a wonderful journey that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do ordinarily”.
The trip was supported by Northern and Weardale Railway.