Opera North's £18m Howard Opera Centre in Leeds to include refugee and asylum seeker voices in sound trail
The voices of refugees and people seeking asylum will be among those included in a special sound trail when Opera North's new Leeds home opens.
The £18m Howard Opera Centre in Harrison Street will include new rehearsal facilities for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, a costume and wigs workshop, an education studio, a fully accessible atrium, and a new restaurant and bar.
The company’s eclectic performance venue, the Howard Assembly Room, is also due to reopen with an enhanced programme of musical and spoken word events.
When the new centre opens later this year, visitors will be able to explore the building by following a sound trail featuring contributions from Leeds residents.
As the first opera company to be granted Theatre of Sanctuary status, it has chosen to include the voices of refugees and asylum seekers as part of the new feature.
It has announced the plans during Celebrating Sanctuary Week, which is organised by City of Sanctuary UK to raise awareness of the valuable contribution those seeking sanctuary have made to society and to celebrate the positive ways in which they have been welcomed across communities.
Alice Gilmour, community partnerships and access manager at Opera North, said: "We hope that, by including their voices in the fabric of the building, participants will see the Howard
Opera Centre as an artistic home and as a place where they will always be welcome and valued.
"As we begin our journey out of lockdown and move toward opening our redevelopment, we will be working with experts, including people seeking sanctuary, to make sure all our buildings and the events we programme within them are places of safety and welcome."
Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network, the Refugee Council and CFL Enrichment, which supports young unaccompanied asylum seekers in the city, will be taking part in Opera North’s Writing Home project, working with musicians Christella Litras and Leroy Johnson to compose and record songs on the theme of home.
These will be used alongside pieces recorded by other residents in Leeds to create the sound journey for centre visitors.
Other projects in the past year have included members of the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North delivering ONe-to-ONe virtual performances to refugee groups and those seeking asylum over Zoom.
The company has also worked closely with Mafwa Theatre, which uses drama to bring together women seeking sanctuary and members of the settled community around the Lincoln Green area of Leeds.
Dominic Gray, projects director at Opera North, said: "We are very proud to have been given Theatre of Sanctuary status and will continue to explore different ways to extend a heartfelt welcome to all.
"From helping refugees and those seeking asylum to achieve their aspirations, to enabling these often-marginalised voices to finally be heard, we remain committed to doing everything we can to make everyone feel celebrated and valued whenever and wherever they interact with us, and to enable more people to enrich their lives through engagement with the arts."
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