Since 2017, the Refugee Buddy Project has been connecting volunteers from Hastings, Bexhill and surrounding areas with Syrian families who have been resettled after immigrating to the UK. The project supplements local authority resources with administrative, social and community assistance, from helping arrivals navigate public transport to inviting them for meals and activities.
A further branch of support is creative. Refugees and their buddies participate in cookery, craft and art-making groups to foster confidence and friendships. The local De La Warr Pavilion on Bexhill Marina is closely connected to the project, having worked jointly with Rossana Leal, the founder of the Buddy Project, on Marc Bauer’s 2019 exhibition Mal Être/Performance. Initially a response to the iconography of migrant crossings in the news media, Bauer’s drawings enlarge these scenes and foreground the migrant experience, while also tracing the motif of people on boats throughout history.
“That show was about encouraging people to see migration as a fundamental part of the human condition,” says Rosie Cooper, the De La Warr Pavilion’s head of exhibitions. Now the Pavilion has partnered again with the Buddy Project on All in the Same Storm: Pandemic Patchwork Stories, an exhibition showcasing quilts made from patchwork squares which each speak to life under the pandemic. The collaboration came out of Stitch for Change, a Buddy Network initiative that used the Chilean practice of arpillera-making to share cultures and start conversations around life in adversity, inspired by Leal’s own Chilean heritage.
“It’s about sharing stories and communicating what life is like under oppressive circumstances”
Like Bauer’s show, All in the Same Storm is concerned with correcting mass media narratives of community life, explains Cooper. “It’s about sharing stories and communicating what life is like under oppressive circumstances, the pandemic being one such moment,” she says. That one of the Pavilion’s architects, Erich Mendelsohn, was himself a refugee further contextualised the project for the team.
One patch references the Black Lives Matter movement, while others take a sideways look at lockdown’s effects, decentring the focus from the political response. “I wanted the exhibitions we put on during Covid to reflect what was really happening,” Cooper says. “To present a local narrative that also speaks to this international context and experience.”
All images courtesy the Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings, Rother and Wealden with Stitch for Change