By Gareth Stevens 

It was inevitable that the Festival by the Lake would be cancelled this year given the current situation. However a similar inevitability meant that Polly Gifford, the event’s chief organiser, would not be deterred. In an epiphanic moment she asked “Why don’t we go ahead online?”. So it is great to be able to tell you that the event will go ahead on Sunday 21st June in a virtual sense, thanks to the availability and inclusive attitude of Isolation Station Hastings. It would have been the fourth year of this event, which aims to raise funds for a number of international initiatives geared to supporting refugees as well as those that are resettling in our area. 

Festival by the Lake 2019. Ashburnham Place East Sussex UK, 23 June 2019.

Whilst not quite the same as a sun-blessed day at Ashburnham Place, the organising team is inviting people to prepare a picnic and to settle down in their garden or living room, and join others for an afternoon of great live music, poetry, discussion, fun activities, an online raffle and much more.

You can opt to buy a ticket and join the event on zoom which will enable you and your family or group to have an interactive experience and to enter a raffle – or you can just watch all the fun live on Facebook for free.

More specifically, funds raised will go to Hastings Supports Refugees who will in turn distribute money to groups working on the ground in Calais and in Greece, supporting refugees dealing with terrible conditions made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Funds will also be shared with the Hastings & Rother Refugee Buddy Project to support community-led initiatives here in our town.

Musical acts that have been confirmed thus far are: Gwyneth Herbert, Jamal & Alaa, Bev Lee Harling, Helen Sharpe, Hannah-Lou, Siddy Bennett, and Beccy Byrne. There will also be a spoken word element organised by The Whole She-Bang and a special guest appearance by comedian Henning Wehn. 

The programme will also include a panel discussion about this year’s campaign to end unlimited immigration detention.  We are the only country in Europe practising indefinite detention pending deportation, and whilst most people are either deported or released back into the community after a few weeks, many are held for much longer – even years – or repeatedly released and then picked up again.  This urgently needed discussion will both raise awareness and lay out pragmatic ways in which we can all get involved in this issue.

Other features of the festival will be: an interview with Rossana Leal, the founder of the Hastings & Rother Refugee Buddy Project; creative activities for children; the sale of original artworks; and you will even be able to order freshly made Syrian Baklava that will be delivered to your door to round off your picnic.  

The festival is organised by Hastings Community of Sanctuary, which is part of the national City of Sanctuary network. City of Sanctuary is a national movement, made up of local organisations, community groups, businesses and individuals who are working together to build a culture of welcome for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Its goal is to create a network of towns and cities throughout the country which are proud to be places of safety, and where people seeking sanctuary are made to feel fully part of their local community.

Please support this very worthwhile event so we can redouble our town’s commitment to counterpoint the government’s determined will to create a hostile environment for those who look to us for sanctuary.

Festival by the Lake Online takes place on Sunday 21 June, 12.00-3.00pm
Tickets and donations via Eventbrite Latest info on the Facebook page.

Read more about Refugee Week 2020 here


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