Sunday, 30 September 2012

Coming soon...

You may have noticed that this blog has been a bit quiet recently.

This is because I have been working on my websites Sheffield Unchained and Unheard Voices. I have also been doing an internship at the Guardian over the past few weeks.

I am currently working on my own portfolio website where I will bring together content from my other websites and from my writing for the Guardian and other publications.

In the meantime please click on the links above to see my recent work.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A second detainee threatens to jump from detention centre rooftop

(Published in the Guardian Northerner on 25th July 2012)

Long delays in asylum cases and conditions at Morton Hall in Lincolnshire prompt unrest, according to detainees and the centre's visitor group 


Entrance to Morton Hall Detention Centre

A Malaysian man is the second detainee in less than 24 hours to protest against the 'harsh' treatment of detainees at Morton Hall detention centre in Swinderby, Lincolnshire.

He climbed the nine-meter high Fry building at 11.30am yesterday morning, Tuesday 24 July, and refused to come down even though temperatures reached around 29°C in Lincolnshire.

The Malaysian said he was protesting at the injustice in this country and could be heard shouting for water and saying that he thought he was going to faint. He said the officers refused to bring him water and he threatened to jump off the roof in frustration at the way they were treating him. He said in a telephone call from the rooftop:

They're not human, how can they treat me like this. There is no point anymore.

A UK Border Agency (UKBA) statement said that they sent trained staff to negotiate with the detainee and that they convinced him to come down shortly after 5pm yesterday afternoon. The UKBA said he was placed in a separate unit at Morton Hall where staff could talk to him.

The Malaysian is allegedly only one of a group of detainees who have threatened to climb the buildings of Morton Hall in protest at the 'disrespect' and 'inhumane' treatment they claim to be experiencing.

One of the rooftops of a building inside Morton Hall

The protest began on Monday night, when a Palestinian detainee climbed onto the roof of the Library building at Morton Hall at 5pm and refused to come down.

Detainees said they woke up yesterday morning to find that the Palestinian had disappeared from the roof of the building. A UKBA spokesperson said that the Palestinian was talked down during the early hours of Tuesday morning and is safe and well.

The Palestinian, around 25 years old, climbed on to the roof in protest at being detained for eighteen months. He had recently been unsuccessful in a bail application and had been on hunger strike for a couple of days.

Morton Hall, previously a female prison, is surrounded by 5m high razor wired fences

An Iraqi Kurdish detainee at Morton Hall, who helped to translate for the Palestinian, said:

People are generally angry with the UKBA, they are fed up with the removal policy.

In an interview yesterday, he said that he couldn't believe how bad the situation was for many of the detainees.

Some people are in a really bad situation here, they have been here for years, but they are innocent, they haven't done anything wrong.

The Iraqi Kurd said that there is an atmosphere of revolt in the detention centre, with many detainees planning to climb to the roofs of the buildings. He said that around six detainees had been taken to prison for protesting and that staff had subsequently locked detainees in their rooms.

Geoamey, a prisoner escort service, removes detainees from Morton Hall

Nottingham Indymedia has reported that many of the detainees are protesting because of the centre's disrespect of their Muslim faith during Ramadan. They published a statement by the detainees who say they are on strike:

Sir we are here in detention centre Morton Hall. We are with fasting in the last four days but management not supply proper food for it. We demand proper food at the proper time. Today they don't give food at all and guys are on the roof. We are on strike. Why they don't treat us as human?

Dave Hewitt from Morton Hall Visitors Group said:

We fully support the detainees inside the detention prison Morton Hall in their hunger strike and protests. Having to live under the intolerable conditions they are forced into, often for years on end, being moved around the country from one detention prison to another, in many cases having no contact with the outside world, it's no surprise they have had enough. We will continue to support those detained in any way we can whilst doing all we can to end the inhumane system that puts them there.

A UKBA spokesperson said:

A one man protest at Morton Hall in which a detainee scaled the roof of the centre has been resolved. The man is safe and well.

The identities of the detainees have been withheld for their protection.

Photographs by 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Palestinian detainee threatens suicide whilst staging a protest on detention centre roof

Morton Hall detention centre, which is surreounded by 5m high razor wired fence

A Palestinian detainee has allegedly been on the roof of the Library building at Morton Hall Immigration Removal centre in Lincolnshire since 5pm this evening.

An Iraqi Kurdish detainee who came to the UK after living as a refugee in Germany during the first Gulf War, said that the Palestinian was around 25 years old and that he climbed onto the roof in protest at being detained for eighteen months.

The Iraqi Kurd said that the Palestinian had recently been unsuccessful in a bail application and that he had been on hunger strike for a couple of days. He said that two or three detainees tried to help each other climb up to the roof, but that the Palestinian was the only one who managed to climb onto the roof.

He described how there were a lot of detainees standing outside watching and shouting and that some of them refused to go back to their rooms. “The detention centre was out of control for a while, but eventually people started going back to their rooms.”

“People are generally angry with the UK Border Agency (UKBA), they are fed up with the removal policy.” The Iraqi Kurd said that the detention guards asked the Palestinian to come down from the roof but he threatened to jump off every time they came near.

“He wants to kill himself now, if anybody comes near he wants to jump. He’s standing on the roof and he wants to jump soon, if anyone comes near him” The Iraqi Kurd, who has been in Morton Hall for two months, said he helped to translate for the Palestinian a couple of times.

He expressed shock at the things he had seen since being at Morton Hall Immigration centre:

England is a country that says it believes in human rights, but not in this detention centre. They need help somehow, all the cases I have seen, some really sad stories, people who are here for no reason, they haven’t committed any crimes, they are in detention for nothing.

He believes that this is the beginning of a revolt in the detention centre, “There will be more, I can see how people are reacting to the situation, there is tension amongst the groups who have been here for a long time.”

Having lived in the UK for twelve years, The Iraqi Kurd claims that after he was given temporary leave to remain, the UKBA delayed granting him indefinite leave to remain for five years and then detained him.

“They are trying to deport me to Iraq, even though I spent my childhood growing up as a European.” The Iraqi Kurd fled Iraq with his family during the first Gulf War, when the Kurdish population suffered an 'ethnic cleansing' campaign by Saddam Hussein's regime. He arrived in Germany with his family when he was ten years old. He is now waiting for a response from the European Court of Human Rights, and hopes to be able to return to Germany.

The Iraqi Kurd believes that the Palestinian is not the only detainee who will revolt. He said there are ten or fifteen detainees currently on hunger strike and that one has tried to kill himself through self harm. “Something is going to happen soon, because there is no help from outside at all and if we ask for help the guards say it is not their problem.”

The Palestinian will stay there all night and he will eventually jump and there are others like him, there are over one hundred of them who want to do something like this

The identities of the detainees have been withheld for their protection.

Photograph by 

Double documentary screening explores asylum in the UK

Trailer for Hamedullah: The Road Home

An anti-deportation campaign group is hosting a documentary screening on detention and deportation in the light of recent news that G4S security guards will not face charges for the death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga, who collapsed while being escorted on a flight from Heathrow airport in London.

The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCDAC), who will host the free event this Tuesday 24 July at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane in East London, laments the decision not to bring a charge of corporate manslaughter on the private security firm and believes that accountability for the insitutionalised abuse of those seeking sanctuary in the UK seems further away than ever.

Lisa Matthews of NCDAC said, “This incident is just one of many examples of the detention and deportation machines being used to silence the voice of migrants, divide communities and try and make us forget that asylum seekers and other migrants are individuals with human stories to tell.”

Outside an Immigration Removal Centre
NCDAC will screen two documentaries; Hamedullah: The Road Home and How Long is Indefinite?, which both claim to highlight injustices of the asylum and immigration systems. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion with the directors of the documentaries, young people from Afghanistan, ex-detainees, Lisa Matthews of NCDAC and Kate Blagojevic of Detention Action.

Hamedullah: The Road Home, which won Best Short Documentary at the London Independent Film Festival, tells the story of a young Afghan who claims asylum in the UK, and his struggle to cope after being deported on a 'ghost' charter flight back to Afghanistan.

UK film director and screenwriter Sue Clayton filmed Hamedullah and his friends up to the day he was deported. Clayton gave Hamedullah a small video camera when he was deported, hoping to find out whether he would survive in Afghanistan.
Hamedullah in Afghanistan
Clayton has made over 20 award-winning films for BBC and Channel 4, including The Disappearance of Finbar with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. “A lot of my films are about people who go on journeys, and what people are looking for in their lives and how they change. Are they running to something or from something and who do they become when they go on a journey?
“I thought about these unaccompanied children; who do they grow up to be, do they feel Afghan, do they feel British? So my real inspiration wasn’t even the political side at first, it was more about how you put your identity together every morning, what makes you you, is it your friends, your music, do you really cling onto your family and your past or do you have to let that go? So it was a sort of emotional interest in how they keep themselves going, because a lot of them are very positive, so how do they face each day with all that difficulty behind them?”

How Long is Indefinite?, directed and produced by Alexis L Wood, claims to be the first documentary to expose detention without a time limit being exercised on thousands of immigrants in Britain every day.
Reconstruction of a detention centre from How Long Is Indefinite?
The film follows the lives of three people caught in immigration limbo and detained for almost four years between them. They cannot be removed from the UK, yet they remain detained in prison at an average cost of £40,150 each, per year to the taxpayer.
Wood, assistant producer at DocHouse in London, said she made this documentary because she wanted to represent the main issues leading to detainees caught in detention limbo.
Aissata, one of the characters in How Long Is Indefinite?
“I made a film for people to actually see the faces, the families and the lives of people detained which is so easy to forget when we are given statistics of people removed, told that they are illegal and without rights. In fact the case is not so simple and many are never removed from the country but held in detention indefinitely.
“The longest case we know about is someone being detained for 8 years. Many are held for several years wondering each day if they will ever be released or be removed to a regime in which they fear for their lives. I want my film to make people empathise with the people in this situation and realise that it is happening to thousands of people every day.” 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Political asylum seeker fears torture and detention if deported

(As published in the Guardian Northerner 15 July 2012)

Sheffield journalist married local charity worker two years ago, but must return to apply for spouse's visa in Cameroon where he faces persecution.


An emergency protest has been held outside Sheffield Town Hall in support of Bernard Mboueyeu, who fears persecution and jail if he is deported to Cameroon first thing tomorrow, Monday 16 July.
Mboueyeu, who is currently being detained at Pennine House in Manchester, was arrested by the UK Border Agency on Tuesday morning. This is the second time he has been held, after being released and allowed to return to Sheffield just six weeks ago.
Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya's security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006. Biya has been in power since 1982.
Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days. Mboueyeu's wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, said:
They cut his feet with machetes - he's still got the scars on his legs.
Bernard and Sharon Mboueyeu

Mboueyeu married charity worker Sharon in 2010 but the Home Office is insisting that he returns to Cameroon to apply for a spouse's visa. His supporters say that if he is returned as planned early tomorrow morning, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.
Bernard and Sharon getting married in 2010

Shaffaq Mohammed, Sheffield's Liberal Democrat Leader, who was at the Town Hall protest, said:
Mboueyeu has offered to return voluntarily to Cameroon if the Home Office guarantees his safety but the Home Office have refused to make that guarantee.
We think Bernard's safety is at grave risk, if not his life. All because a bureaucrat would like a piece of paper to be sent from a foreign country.
Commenting on a 2009 Amnesty Report on Cameroon, Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa said:
Cameroon has a horrendous record of gross human rights violations, including torture and killings, against dissidents and members of opposition. Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon. Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said:
Our rules are very clear, when someone has no right to be in the UK we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.
Cllr Mohammed said that whilst in Sheffield, Bernard was making a great contribution to the city. 
He volunteered with the Royal Society for the Blind and another charity called Aspire. Two years ago, when the devastating floods hit Pakistan, one of the first people outside the Town Hall was Bernard. He helped to highlight the plight and to raise thousands of pounds.
Bernard Mboueyeu with his grandchildren
Bernard’s wife Sharon said:
He’s my husband, he’s a step-dad, he’s a granddad and its so annoying that they’re quite happy to take him away from us and not allow him to have a family life.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Square Hole- lovingly assembled live comedy

Professional comedian Seymore Mace at Square Hole

Square Hole, a monthly comedy night held at the Red Deer pub in Sheffield, is a down to earth event, offering laughs, free cake and a welcoming atmosphere.

Usually held on the second Monday of every month, Square Hole has recently changed its format to include more acts from professional comedians.

Host Rich Milner, said that two professional acts would now open and close the evening, with a few new acts sandwiched in between. He said, "I’m trying to book comedians who are very distinctive, where you’re going to go away and remember them."

Rich is keen to keep the original ethos of the night:

I hope to maintain a friendly, relaxed atmosphere where the new acts can experiment a bit. Hopefully it will still be an enjoyable night where everyone can take part.

The name Square Hole comes from the idea of a square peg in a round hole. Rich explained that the ethos of the event is to have a place where comedians can try something different and where everyone is welcome, with an emphasis on originality.

Rich Milner handing out his homemade free cake

Square Hole, which started in December 2010, has become a popular night with a regular fan base. The event originated out of Rich’s frustration with over-priced and badly advertised comedy gigs. He said:

I wanted to do a night that was good value for money. I also wanted to find acts that were a bit more original and intelligent and to give people space to experiment. Whilst the onus is still on being funny.

Rich, 29, has been gigging as a comedian for one year. He entered into comedy after doing performance poetry with Words Aloud, a popular spoken word night which ran in Sheffield between 2006 and 2008. His first comedy gigs were ‘Gong’ shows where the acts get ‘gonged’ off if the audience don’t like them. 

Whilst Rich enjoyed this competitive experience, he decided that he wanted to host gigs that would be enjoyable for the audience but also a pleasant experience for the acts so that they would want to do it again. “So the emphasis is on being friendly and fairly relaxed,” said Rich.

Red Deer pub near West street in Sheffield

Friendliness is also important for the Red Deer pub, landlord Jake Nickles said:

The team at the Red Deer are all down to earth and we try to keep the character of the pub alive by sharing our own characters.

Jake took over the Red Deer in August 2010, which was perfect timing for Rich, “Jake had just taken over and was trying to breathe life into the place.” The pub now hosts a number of events including a Tuesday night quiz, Sunday night movie screenings and live acoustic music every Saturday and Thursday evenings.

The next Square Hole will be held on July 9th 2012, you can find out more at:

Sheffield asylum-seeker deportation blocked

(Published in the Guardian Northerner on 27 June 2012)

Lemlem Hussein Abdu arriving at Sheffield train station

Campaigners in Sheffield have been victorious in helping to block the planned deportation of an elderly and disabled asylum seeker reported in the Guardian Northerner yesterday.

Lemlem Hussein Abdu, 62, was released from Yarl’s Wood detention centre last night as the result of an earlier meeting between Labour MP Paul Blomfield, Sheffield priest Father Shaun Smith and the Immigration Minister Damian Green.

Gina Clayton, chair of Sheffield charity ASSIST said:

We’re delighted at the outcome of the meeting. This is an exceptional and compelling case. We won't relax until Lemlem has a residence permit, but following the Minister’s intervention we are very hopeful that Lemlem will soon have security and be able to live without fear.

Lemlem was arrested on Tuesday 19 June when she visited the UK Border Agency at Vulcan House in Sheffield to begin a new asylum claim. She was taken straight to Yarl's Wood detention centre, ready for a flight to Ethiopia on Sunday 24 June.

However, a demonstration in Sheffield last week, addressed by both Blomfield, and the city's Liberal Democrat leader Shaffaq Mohammed was followed by an eleventh hour reprieve.

Home Office minister Damian Green cancelled the Sunday flight and agreed to delay further action until the meeting in London with Blomfield and Father Shaun Smith from Sacred Heart Church in Hillsborough.

Friends and supporters applauded Lemlem as she arrived at Sheffield train station. The group paid tribute to the hard work and commitment of Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield and the faith leaders.

Lemlem said, “Thank you thank you, I’m happy now,” when she arrived in Sheffield train station last night. She has been released without conditions while the UK Border Agency considers her case for discretionary leave.

Sheffield's campaigners say that Lemlem, who left her home country of Eritrea in 1978, would have been left destitute if she was sent to Ethiopia. She fled after her family was murdered during an attack by Ethiopian forces. Allegedly targeted due to their support for the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which was fighting for independence from Ethiopia.

Sarah Eldridge of Sheffield's City of Sanctuary said:

It’s hard to know exactly which part of the campaign led to the change of heart. But it has been immensely heart warming to watch the spontaneous groundswell of support from hundreds of ordinary people that sprang up in the space of a few days and led to Lemlem’s emotional welcome back to the city.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Sheffield asylum seeker deportation halted - for now

(Published in the Guardian Northerner on 25th June 2012)

Plea for elderly and disabled refugee from Eritrea will be put to the Home Office by MP and Bishop of Sheffield tomorrow.

Lemlem Hussein Abdu
People power in Sheffield has helped to delay the planned rapid deportation of an elderly and disabled asylum seeker whose future now hinges on a meeting tomorrow, Tuesday 26 June.

The Home Office has agreed to halt action against Lemlem Hussein Abdu, 62, who was arrested last Tuesday when she visited the UK Border Agency at Vulcan House in Sheffield to begin a new asylum claim.

Lemlem originally sought asylum in the UK in 2007 but was refused, and after her arrest last week she was taken straight to Yarl's Wood detention centre, ready for a flight to Ethiopia yesterday, Sunday 24 June. But a march and demonstration in Sheffield last week, addressed by both the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, and the city's Liberal Democrat leader Shaffaq Mohammed, was followed by a temporary official change of heart.

Home Office minister Damian Green cancelled the Sunday flight and agreed to delay further action until after the meeting in London tomorrow with Blomfield and the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Steven Croft. Blomfield says:

We will be highlighting the support that Lemlem has within Sheffield, and that her deportation would shame the UK.

Earlier he posted on the Lemlem Must Stay Facebook group page:

I've written to Theresa May seeking an urgent meeting and calling on her to halt the deportation. I've pointed out the huge support for Lemlem in Sheffield and that the decision to remove an elderly, disabled woman to a country where she does not speak the language, where she has never lived and to which she has no affiliation is a gross error [and] will be quite rightly viewed by many as scandalous.

Last week's demonstration saw a procession to the UK Borders Agency at Vulcan House where a delegation met staff to put the case against the decision to deport Lemlem. A petition was also handed in, with over 1000 signatures asking for Lemlem to be given the right to remain in the UK.

The demonstration and interviews with Paul Blomfield and Gina Clayton. Filming and reporting by Marishka Van Steenbergen

A spokesperson for the agency said that the case had been considered carefully by the department and an immigration judge when Lemlem appealed against an original asylum refusal. He said:

Both concluded that this lady does not have grounds to remain in the United Kingdom.
The UK has a proud tradition of providing protection to those who genuinely need it, but those individuals with no right to be here must leave and if they choose not to, we will remove them.

Sheffield's campaigners say that Lemlem, who left her home country of Eritrea in 1978, will be left destitute if she is sent to Ethiopia. She fled after her family was murdered during an attack by Ethiopian forces. Allegedly targeted due to their support for the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which was fighting for independence from Ethiopia.

Gina Clayton, trustee of Sheffield's City of Sanctuary says:

Lemlem is absolutely terrified to the core of being taken to Ethiopia. She has no family and no connections in that culture and no physical ability to work. She doesn't speak the language and she probably would be reduced to begging. The chances are she would simply die of starvation.

There will be a vigil in London tomorrow morning, supported by friends and supporters of Lemlem and faith leaders from Sheffield.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

'Getting lost is essential': The Quay brothers on their city-wide Leeds art project

From 18 to 20 May, theatrical artists the Quay brothers will turn the whole of Leeds into a stage, as part of the Cultural Olympiad. The artists promise that every person strolling through the city will contribute to the choreography. Prepare for a labyrinth to get lost in.

Film by Joe Bream and Marishka Van Steenbergen

The Quay Brothers re-imagine Leeds for 2012 Cultural Olympiad

(Published in the Guardian Northerner on 17 May 2012) 

Yorkshire's swishest shopping streets, and the mysterious Dark Arches, will turn into strange and different places for the next three days.

Leeds Canvas and the Quay Brothers. The Dark Arches are one of the most atmospheric corners of the city centre, hidden below the train station and above the river Aire Photograph: Tom Arber

Residents of Leeds have woken up to find a boat lodged in a tree in the middle of Briggate, the handsome pedestrian-only street at the heart of the city's shopping district. The unexpected shipwreck, 14 metres across and four tall, is the first major public installation to mark the beginning of the Overworlds and Underworlds event.

The internationally acclaimed artist filmmakers, the Quay Brothers, have designed this temporary installation as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Overworlds and Underworlds, happening from tomorrow, Friday 18 May until Sunday night, will see the pair, plus a group of carefully selected fellow-artists, using the city centre of Leeds as their canvas.

This is the first project by Leeds Canvas, an arts consortium chosen three years ago as the Yorkshire region winner of a commission for Artists Taking the Lead. The commission is one of 12 across the UK which are celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.

Steve Dearden, associate producer for Leeds Canvas, explained:

Initially the arts council invited proposals for a large piece of public art in all the English regions. That's when the consortium came together and made a very basic invitation. We would say to an artist, here's our city, our people, our buildings, make a piece of art which explores and celebrates that.

The free event will include three days of public performances and installations involving light, live music, dance and film. However, specific details of the event are being kept secret until closer to the weekend. Dearden said:

What we want is for people to suddenly be surprised by happenings in their own city or visitors seeing things in the city that have never been seen before. All along with the brothers what we want to make is a piece of art based on the city. Based on themes in city life, the flow and movement of people and of water around the city. So the day-to-day activities in the city suddenly becoming strange with strange interventions being made, whether by physical objects or moving objects or people.

The Quay Brothers are working in collaboration with eight of the city's key arts organisations; Northern Ballet, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Opera North, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Met Studio Theatre and Leeds Art Gallery.

Leeds Canvas said they chose the Quay Brothers because of their previous work in Leeds creating art installations for Leeds Art Gallery. They also knew that the brothers had always had a fascination for the Dark Arches under the city's main train station.

Dearden explained why Canvas is hosting a fleeting public art event rather than a lasting installation.

By choosing the Quay Brothers we always knew we weren't going to get a monumental sculpture. They work with light; they work in that ephemeral way. We knew it would be an amazing thing that came out of the city that would be there for a period and then disappear again. But hopefully it is one of those interventions where it is something that becomes part of peoples' memories or the way they talk about the city.

Overworlds and Underworlds will begin on Briggate in Leeds city centre, including the illustrious late 19th century arcades and leading down to the mysterious underworld of the Dark Arches. Dominic Gray, projects director at Opera North said:

The idea of Overworlds and Underworlds is that we've got these very mysterious atmospheric worlds, one underneath and one above. There are subterranean movements going on underneath our feet that are historical as well as physical, the movements of people over hundreds of years. Overworlds is the angels and the things we aspire to, the things that are in the air that we glimpse out of the corner of our eye. The project is about how us, the living people, walk between one or the other and negotiate our map through a city where those things are going on.

The Dark Arches. Photograph: Tom Arber

Dearden hopes that the event will leave a lasting legacy of collaboration between the artists.

It's important to mention that it has not just been about the core team of chief executives or artistic directors. People from different levels have been working together, including the education and marketing teams who have collaborated for the first time. So hopefully the legacy of this, apart from the artistic legacy, will be a much closer relationship between those key organisations in the future.

He also enjoyed his time with the Quay Brothers:

It's been fantastic working with them, it's been wonderful to go and meet them in their studio. In this very unique working space, you knock on door in the south of London, open it up and suddenly you are in this junk room of a Russian monastery, lots of icons, books, decanters, you could spend years in there exploring. And at the other end there is this high-tech editing suite where they are making films with the newest equipment.

Leeds Canvas expects Overworlds and Underworlds to be an event that will be remembered for years to come. Dearden said, “I think when people see some of the set pieces there will be a sense of wonder and fun. I expect that on Friday and Saturday night people will be taking photos of themselves in front of these amazing things and it will become part of the photographic record of the city and part of the way people talk about the city in the future."

Here's a clip of Steve Dearden and Dominic Gray talking about the weekend's excitements in Leeds. Film by Joe Bream and Marishka Van Steenbergen. 

Leeds centre prepares for OverWorlds & UnderWorlds

(Published in the Guardian Culture section on 17 May 2012)

Quay Brothers to take over city centre with mysterious mixture of light, dance, music, film – and a boat in a tree
The Boat on Briggate: the free three-day event begins on Friday. Photograph: Yorkshire Dance
The Quay Brothers, acclaimed American artist filmmakers who live and work in England, will be transforming the city of Leeds this weekend as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

The free three-day OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event, which starts on Friday, will involve the identical 64-year-old twins Stephen and Timothy and other artists putting on a series of public performances and installations involving light, live music, dance and film.

Secrecy surrounds the exact content of the shows but a large clue appeared last weekend with the overnight arrival of a boat lodged in a tree in the Briggate shopping district. The installation is 14 metres wide and four metres tall.

Visitors will be invited to explore the city with fresh eyes, following a map that will lead them through the city centre, where they will encounter public performances involving water and music. Venues will include the County Arcades, which will be filled with the sound of children's voices and live music. The map will then lead visitors down into the subterranean Dark Arches, where they will encounter film and performers within the alcoves.

The Quay Brothers have been working in collaboration with eight of the city's arts organisations: Northern Ballet, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Opera North, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Met Studio Theatre and Leeds Art Gallery.

Asked for more details about the events, the Quay brothers, who have a habit of finishing each other's sentences, said:

You have to experience it. We have set all these things in motion that make it unpredictable and that's the whole point. The journey is the essence of this thing, to be in the middle of that journey and [to know] that being lost can be pleasurable.

The Quay Brothers are renowned as original filmmakers who usually work on a small scale, creating stop-motion animation films, often using puppets.

In contrast, the OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event will be on a large-scale, challenging the artists to translate their dreamlike style using puppets into a dreamlike world of dancers, film and public installations. The brothers are best known for the 1986 film Street of Crocodiles, adapted from a short story by Polish writer Bruno Schulz.

Light is also a motif of the artists' stories. In 2000 the Quay Brothers were commissioned by the BBC to make the film In Absentia in collaboration with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The film combines live action and animation, using relentlessly changing light to convey the thoughts of a woman repeatedly writing a letter.

The Quay Brothers have also created set designs for theatre and opera, which has informed how they approach the OverWorlds & UnderWorlds project. "It's the idea that with the little bit of theatre and opera work we have done, [we're] seeing the city as being a stage so you're staging a large installation piece.

We're hoping there will be a certain choreography of events but that things will overlap or intersect or happen. It is a thing we have to let go, we have to set the parameters, [we] have to wind it up and then off it goes.

The OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event is the first project by Leeds Canvas, an arts consortium, chosen three years ago as the Yorkshire region winner of a commission for Artists Taking the Lead. The commission is one of 12 across the UK celebrating the London Olympics and Paralympics.

When asked for their views on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the Quay Brothers said: "It's too big for us, it's hysteria, we're not good at that. We're closer to rats that stay underground from all of that."

Friday, 27 April 2012

City of Sanctuary fears for welfare of asylum seekers as housing contract is awarded to private security firm

Protests outside the UK Border Agency HQ in Sheffield after G4S won contracts to house asylum seekers. Photograph: South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group

Since the Chileans arrived in the seventies, the Kenyans in the eighties and the Kosovans in the nineties, Sheffield has developed a long tradition of offering sanctuary to those seeking asylum from war and persecution in their own countries.

The Sheffield council has played a large role in offering accommodation and support to these new arrivals. They have established an asylum team to deal with accommodation and a drop-in centre to offer advice. They have also set up a multi-agency forum representing the various organisations and charities that support asylum seekers and refugees in the city.

In 2007, with the support of the council, Sheffield became the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’ for asylum-seekers and refugees. City of Sanctuary is a movement to build a culture of welcome and hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers. There are now more than fifty City of Sanctuary groups all over the country.

Change for the worse

However, many asylum seekers and voluntary sector organisations in Sheffield are worried that this is all about to change. From May 2012 the private security firm G4S will take over the housing contract from Sheffield City Council. In a bid to cut costs the UK Border Agency (UKBA) will give £203m to G4S to house asylum seekers across Britain. 

Myra Davies, founder of Asylum Seeker Support Initiative (ASSIST) said, “ASSIST and the Sheffield council have built up organically as a network in which people co-operate for the well being of asylum seekers. What we fear with G4S coming in is that all the mutual respect and understanding we have built up is going to be wiped out.”

Under its new procurement arm, COMPASS, the UKBA have reduced the number of prime suppliers of asylum services from ten to three. G4S and the two other multinational security companies SERCO and Reliance already provide immigration, detention and removal services to UKBA.

These three companies have now won a total of £620m worth of contracts to provide housing for 18,108 people in asylum accommodation. The Home Office claims this will save £150m over the seven years of the contract.

Accused of brutality

This cost cutting venture has been met with widespread opposition from unions, charities and organisations working with asylum seekers and refugees. Campaigners highlight the unsavoury track record of G4S who have been criticised over their treatment of asylum seekers.

On 6th October 2010, Jose Guttierezz, a Columbian deportee was badly injured and had to receive hospital treatment after being forced on to an aircraft by G4S. In that same month Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan asylum seeker, died as a result of his forced deportation by G4S prison guards. Three guards are facing criminal charges and G4S lost their contract to escort deportees after the killing of Mubenga.

Campaign organisations like South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) fear that asylum seekers will be subject to further abuse and negligence and that the UKBA is deliberately intimidating asylum seekers by threatening to install prison guard companies as their managing landlords.

Stuart Crosswaite from SYMAAG said, “I don’t think we should be cooperating with these people, I think we should be putting all our resources into monitoring exactly what they are doing and challenging them about the rights of the children they are going to be moving and the housing that will be sub-standard.”

Myra Davies believes that G4S have a profile that is totally terrifying to asylum seekers. “G4S will not have the same sort of brief that the council has had for the well being of people, they have a brief for the profit margins of their company, for making asylum seekers accept poor accommodation because it will be cheaper. They have also got responsibility for removing asylum seekers, so overall G4S is not someone who will want to listen to humanitarian concerns.”

Lowering of standards

But Stephen Small, the Managing Director of UK Immigration and Borders at G4S, said: “We take the welfare of all people who receive our services extremely seriously. We will use housing assessment specialists to drive up the standard of housing provided and employ dedicated social cohesion experts to work with local authorities, migrant support groups, and health and education bodies.”

However, Jim Steinke, chief executive of the Northern Refugee Centre, believes that housing standards will lower once G4S are in control. He is concerned that the loss of local authority influence will destroy the strong relationships that have been built up between the councils, asylum seekers and voluntary sector organisations.

“The level of service has been better in Yorkshire than in other regions and this is why the campaign against G4S has been so acute; the campaign is not only against G4S but also the potential lowering of standards,” said Jim Steinke.

Councils are cornered

Stuart Crosswaite from SYMAAG said, “Sheffield council has a tradition of being humanitarian and we’ve got a pretty good relationship with them. We have spoken to them about G4S and in the end they gave in and agreed that it would be really bad if housing was privatised. The problem is that they said they have to work with these people, so they have to keep a good relationship with them.

“I suspect there will be a lot of unofficial support from the council and a lot of official silence. I hope there will be official support as well because if you allow housing standards to lower for one group it pulls down the level for everyone else. We want to appeal to them on humanitarian grounds to get involved.”

Sheffield Councilor Mick Rooney, responsible for asylum, immigration and migration said, “As a Cabinet Member I will enter into a working relationship with G4S without prejudice. I cannot and will not allow their past record to colour my relationship.”

However, when asked about how this will affect asylum seekers he said, “I believe the COMPASS procurement process showed that this was a cost cutting exercise. Will it benefit asylum seekers and refugees? That remains to be seen.”

Leeds will be a canvas as part of the Cultural Olympiad

(As published in the Guardian Northerner on 20th April 2012)
Ahead of the event, in May, the Quay Brothers will be at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, next week
The Quay Brothers will be at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds next week Photograph: Betty Longbottom
The critically acclaimed artists and filmmakers, the Quay Brothers, will be at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds next week ahead of a major event in the city that is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
In May, the Overworlds and Underworlds event, will transform parts of Leeds for a weekend.
On Tuesday 24 April, the Quay Brothers will be at the iconic venue for a collaboration with Leeds Canvas and the Culture Vulture that features Maska, Street of Crocodiles, In Absentia and Stille Nacht I: Dramolet.
The Quay Brothers normally work on small scale projects creating stop motion animation films. But in contrast, on the weekend of 18 to 20 May, they will use the city of Leeds as a kind of canvas as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Artists Taking The Lead project.
Collaborating with seven other artists, they will 're-imagine' the city through a series of public performances and installations involving light, live music, dance and film.
The free event will begin in Briggate and also involves other landmarks including the subterranean Dark Arches tunnels extending beneath Leeds railway station and bridging the River Aire.
The Quay brothers, Stephen and Timothy, said: "This is the first time we have been invited to work on such an enormous scale, and we're delighted to be working with such a renowned and talented group of artists and designers.
"Leeds is a city full of unusual spaces that resonate with our ideas and those of the creative team. Overworlds and Underworlds is going to take all of us into new territory, through familiar spaces, perceived in unfamiliar ways."
It is the first project by Leeds Canvas, chosen three years ago as the Yorkshire region winner of a commission for Artists Taking the Lead. The commission is one of 12 across the UK, each inspired by their location and celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.
The Quay brothers are keeping the specific details under wraps until next month, when they will reveal more. They will work in collaboration with eight of the city's key arts organisations; Northern Ballet, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Opera North, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre and Leeds Art Gallery.
Ron Magliozzi, associate curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art said: "The Quay Brothers bring a unique poetry of gesture and alienation to a remarkable range of media from graphic design and cinema, to music videos, ballet and the settings for live performance on stage. Their approach to each new project is intensely personal and multi-layered. In all its forms, their work presents audiences with the luminous gifts of wonder and delicious uncertainty."