Stories as Sanctuary
For Refugee Week, Amanda Addison shares how Norwich City of Sanctuary, her hometown, inspired her to write Boundless Sky, a story she hopes moves readers to create a culture of welcome wherever they are in the world.
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar,” wrote the author Damian Barr about life during Covid 19.
The above words very much sum up the sentiments of empathy and connection which inspired me to write Boundless Sky. Our interconnected lives navigate the same storm – current events on planet Earth: war, famine, intolerance, economic and political upheavals and more recently climate change. However, the ability to weather the storm are very different depending upon our circumstances.
Furthermore, ‘We’re all in this together’ and ‘small acts of kindness are so important’ are phrases we have become familiar with over recent weeks due to the pandemic and run through the storyline of Boundless Sky.
Refugee children past and present
Boundless Sky tells the migration story of a swallow and, through the swallow’s arduous journey, portrays just how far refugees have to travel to get to safety, how the journey is long and dangerous, from Britain to the southern tip of Africa, and how the help and welcome of others are so needed. Bird is welcomed by the children on the route from Europe to Africa.
Tolstoy famously said, “literature is one of two stories, someone goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” In the case of Boundless Sky, that someone is called Leila and she both goes on a journey and is a stranger arriving in town.
Leila and Alfie, two young children thousands of miles apart, bring Bird nourishment and treat her with kindness. All of this happens under the same boundless sky.
This is both a contemporary theme and with the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War it reminds me of the sculpture I see when I pass through Liverpool Street station. It is a bronze sculpture of children carrying suitcases, looking out, standing poised on railroad tracks. Kindertransport – The Arrival.
Kindertransport–The Arrival. Photo credit Matthew Black.
Almost 10,000 Jewish children from ’38 and ’39 sent alone across Europe to safety. A boat to Harwich and then trains up to London Liverpool Street. When maybe on one of those same days, the rest of the family were on trains to their final destination. The Kinder Transport was a great moment of hospitality, an act of unusual kindness.
Today, can compassion for children escaping conflict be the norm? Boundless Sky can play a part in exploring our intellectual and emotional empathy for contemporary children fleeing to a place of safety.
My heart especially goes out to children caught up in these conflicts. While Leila is very much a character in her own right in the book, I also wanted her to be able to reflect many children’s journeys to sanctuary, and hence the use of Bird as metaphor for her journey. Both Leila and Bird migrate to survive and thrive.
Cities of Sanctuary
Norwich City of Sanctuary is included in the book’s dedication. Norwich is my hometown, and people have reached out, seeing it as a mark of civic duty to welcome those who are displaced. Norwich joined the City of Sanctuary movement in 2016. It is a coalition of local refugee support groups and community representatives. An example of this is where women may come together to share diverse craft techniques while developing English conversation skills. I was invited to visit such a group and shared a textile workshop with them. There is now a thriving network of libraries and schools of sanctuary.
Norwich has a long tradition of offering sanctuary to displaced people. A well-known example is the Flemish weavers who came in the sixteenth century to escape religious persecution. They were given sanctuary and invigorated the local textile industry. Most recently Syrian refugees have been welcomed in the city. My own earliest personal memory of Norwich as a City of Sanctuary was back in the early 1980s when a school friend’s mother hosted a Chilean refugee family in their home.
A Culture of Welcome
Sundiata. Used with permission from New Routes
The biggest global inequality is perhaps not your race, religion, class, gender – but which passport you hold. Nowadays borders are not just around countries, they even begin in the visa office many miles away from someone’s destination. Borders are top-down, and increasingly in our ‘hostile environment’ everyone is treated with suspicion.
Boundless Sky shows how we might welcome people fleeing from war, climate change and other disasters. Pope Francis speaking in this year’s Christian Unity Week said, “After the violence of the ocean people need others who practise a culture of welcome.” Can we resurrect conviviality where we can coexist without fear of the ‘other’? There is still work to be done in extending people’s intellectual and emotional empathy and my hope is that Boundless Sky will be part of that change.
Stories as Sanctuary
“Stories are shelters for way-worn travellers,” said John Berger, the author and art critic. Maybe we can extend this thought to say that a story is a sanctuary for all of us, especially those caught in the storm with only a single oar.
And for those who see from the vantage point of their super yacht to extend the hand of friendship and welcome to those less fortunate - just as the UK did to the children on the Kindertransport over seventy-five years ago?
This is the story of a bird that fits in your hand flying halfway around the world looking for a place to nest. This is the story of a young girl from northern Africa fleeing halfway around the world looking for a place of peace. This is the story of Bird. This is the story of Leila. This is the story of a chance encounter and a long journey home.
Amanda's work is inspired by the natural world, travel and textiles. Long-listed for the Commonword and Virginia Prize, translated into German and Italian, she holds an MA in Writing the Visual and lectures in Art and Creative Writing. To learn more about Amanda, follow her on Twitter or visit her at amandaaddison.com