WelcomeFest – fresh sights and sounds from new friends

WelcomeFest at St Anne's Cathedral, BelfastFour hundred people attended a WelcomeFest celebration held in Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral as part of Refugee Week. The evening was organised by the Red Cross, Belfast Friendship Club and NI Council for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS).

diocesan news article on the Church of Ireland website explains that the diverse line-up of local performers from BeyondSkin included a Ugandan drummer, a Sri Lankan beatboxer, an Indian dance troupe, an all-women Samba band as well as music from Zimbabwe and Colombia. And for good measure the evening they were joined by a world champion drum major!

The many children in the audience were enthralled by the skills of a host of circus acts, performing feats never before seen in St Anne’s Cathedral, while outside they had the opportunity to have a go at art activities provided in the carpark by Wheelworks, a youth art organisation.

Organisations working with and supporting refugees and asylum seekers were on hand to offer advice alongside refreshments and face painting. Melanie Holmes from the Red Cross’ refugee support team said:

“We wanted to show people the positive side of our work. We see a lot of hardship and sadness in our jobs supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, but each person we meet is an individual with their own story, talents and contribution to make to our society.”

The Very Rev John Mann – Dean of Belfast – said that the WelcomeFest evening was about “celebrating talent, experiencing diversity, promoting the richness of the wide range of Northern Ireland’s society today”.

“Things are not always easy, individuals and families may be isolated, integration takes time and effort, but may this night open our eyes and ears to fresh sights and sounds, help us make new friends and bring a smile and raise spirits all round.”