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Youthful supporters pictured at the Festival by the Lake in 2018 (photo: Alexander Brattell).

Festival of Sanctuary returns with musicians, artists and a moving exhibition

Hastings Festival of Sanctuary is back – the annual event expressing local solidarity with those come to these shores seeking refuge from persecution will take place at Hastings Museum on Sunday 12 September. Local musicians and artists will contribute to a day of community, creativity and hope, says the organiser, Hastings Community of Sanctuary. Nick Terdre reports.

Normally known as the Festival by the Lake, the event had to be cancelled last year due to Covid but will be back for its fifth outing this year, and its first at Hastings Museum, on Sunday 12 September, 12-6pm.

“The Festival of Sanctuary sends a simple message of welcome, with some of Hastings’ best musicians and artists once again showing their support for the act of seeking sanctuary,” says the organiser, Hastings Community of Sanctuary. “Raising funds for Hastings Supports Refugees, the festival celebrates the power of community, of creativity and of hope.”

Syrian musicians Jamal and Alaa performing at the Festival by the Lake in 2018 (photo: Alexander Brattell).

The line-up of musicians includes Buddha Triangle, Helen Sharpe and Clair Nicholson, alongside festival regulars Jamal, Alaa and Zahi, renowned Syrian musicians now based in Brighton.

As well as a solo set, Bev Lee Harling will be performing with Lucy Mulgan from Barefoot Opera and the Refugee Buddy Project. Hastings’ younger generation of artists will be represented by Kay Iris and Poppy Sharpe.

Around the grounds of the museum there will be storytellers, art workshops, poetry readings, drumming sessions, fun for kids, community stalls and delicious food. You can also take a walk through the woods to the Bohemia Walled Garden – a sanctuary for nature in the heart of the town – for a guided tour.

The Lampedusa Cross (photo: The Trustees of the British Museum).

Lampedusa Cross

Inside the museum, you will be able to see the Lampedusa Cross, made by Francesco Tuccio from the remnants of a refugee boat wrecked near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

This is the centrepiece of Crossings: community and refuge, a British Museum Spotlight Loan exhibition also featuring poignant boat artwork by Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj. Made from repurposed bicycle mudguards tightly packed with burnt matches, 12 tiny boats represent the fragile vessels used by refugees to make their perilous voyages as a response to the ongoing tragedy in Syria.

The exhibition, which runs from 10 September to 5 December, is co-curated by the Refugee Buddy Project, who have run workshops with the local refugee community over several weeks on the exhibition’s themes; their work will also be displayed.

There will be talks and workshops responding to the themes of the exhibition, with speakers including Issam Kourbaj, exhibition curator Jill Cook from the British Museum and a representative of the UN Agency for Refugees. A display of original postcards, donated by local artists, will be sold to raise funds for vital work supporting refugees in the UK and Europe.

“We’re excited to be able to bring people back together this year, and to be working with Hastings Museum,” Hastings Community of Sanctuary co-chair Polly Gifford said. “With so much conflict around the world, and an increasingly hostile environment in the UK, it’s more vital than ever to send out a message of hope, and there’s no better way of doing that than through music, art and community.”

Singer/song-writer Bev Lee Harling is among the local musicians who will be performing.

Council support

The festival is supported by Hastings Borough Council, whose deputy leader and lead for Culture and Regeneration Cllr Paul Barnett said, “The council is really delighted that this wonderful festival is taking place in and around our Museum and Art Gallery this year.

“At a time when the world is increasingly concerned about the plight of refugees, and in a town which does so much to welcome people from wherever they come, we can all learn so much from the experiences and words of those who have successfully settled in Hastings.

“So, a big thanks to all those volunteers at Hastings Community of Sanctuary and the Refugee Buddy Project who have worked hard to make this happen. I am looking forward to this special day so much.”

HBC is among the East Sussex councils which will host some of the first Afghan families to be resettled in the UK after being evacuated from Kabul last month.

“Hastings Community of Sanctuary is part of the national City of Sanctuary network,” Gifford said. “Our vision is for the UK to be a welcoming place of safety for all, a place that is proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.”


Entry to the festival is free and open to all, so you are invited to bring your picnic (and your dancing shoes) and join in a day of solidarity, community and culture.

The latest festival news can be found on the Hastings Supports Refugees Facebook page or contact

You can find out more about the HCoS’s current campaigns and how you can get involved at their stall and on their website, where you can also sign the City of Sanctuary Pledge.

Drumming by the lake at the 2018 festival (photo: Alexander Brattell).


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Posted 18:03 Sunday, Sep 5, 2021 In: Festivals

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