Building a community 

#whenachildisawitness

On Saturday 26th February over one hundred performers will join together for the premiere of the new version of my requiem When A Child Is A Witness with top UK choir Ex Cathedra. I’ve been writing a series of blogs about some of the refugee groups also taking part, and spending time working with the different charities has been …and I’m searching for the right word… uplifting comes to mind, also challenging at times… but overwhelmingly – the best thing ever, amazing. Let’s call it ‘grace’.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been getting to know some of the people involved in different support networks in Coventry and I’ve been hearing their stories. I’ve seen the levels of support that are offered and received, and I’ve witnessed people doing the work. To make – and maintain – truly supportive and interactive communities. It has been inspirational for me. 

Some of the performers in When A Child Is A Witness from Ex Cathedra, Carriers of Hope, Inini, the European Youth Music Refugee Choir and the Academy of Vocal Music (clockwise from left)

My most recent visit was to Inini, a mental health support group for refugees and migrants in Coventry, set up by CEO Last Mafuba as a direct response to the need for a regular supportive group for those struggling with the various challenges of living in the UK. 

With the aroma of a delicious hot meal still lingering in the air, I ask the group to tell me what Inini means to each of them.

They all speak with passion about feeling accepted, being welcomed, and the importance of a safe space where each person can just be themselves and ‘be understood’. 

Last explains succinctly – ‘here, we understand the problems people face and we have the solutions’. The sessions are co-run by Olugbemi Moronfolu who not only co-ordinates the sessions with Last but also enhances the group’s wellbeing by her wonderful cooking. The first part of each session is to come in and share food together. 

It makes me think of Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’

and that the first four strata are being directly addressed by the work of Inini, thereby enabling the members of the group to manifest the highest strata of creativity and self-actualisation. 

When we feel safe, supported, when we are not worrying about where the next meal will come from, and when we feel that we belong, we are more able to express ourselves and to speak our truth. We can reveal vulnerability, trusting that we will not be judged. We can reach out to each other – both to support and to lean on each other.

As part of the performance on Saturday at Coventry Cathedral the members of Inini will sing ‘Amazing Grace’, the words of which are so loaded with resonance:

In between the verses of the song Fidelis will read his poem. It presents compelling concepts: chaotic emotions, the facade of pity and envy for the blind man, ending with these poignant words:

…Knowing and understanding
That to truly live
Is to allow us to feel
Even that which tears hearts

In that I must be blind
To the chaos of emotion
Be blind to the noise
And see only with the heart.

As Inini’s small group of voices sound out into the resonant space of the cathedral on Saturday, their voices will reach out to everyone there with honesty, with resilience, and with the knowledge that they have created their own safety net; they are supported by each other. 

Our ears will hear what the group tells us about grace, and we are in turn grateful, full of amazement and, most of all, full of hope.

Coventry Cathedral Saturday 26th February 5pm.

When A Child Is A Witness – a requiem for refugees 

a dynamic patchwork of music, stories and poetry

More info here 

Book your tickets here

Coventry City Of Culture

Liz Dilnot Johnson is a composer and co-muser based in Herefordshire, UK. 

stunning‘ Liz Dilnot Johnson’s double album Intricate Web

‘she has an extraordinary intuition for what works’ Jeffrey Skidmore OBE

Support the ongoing #whenachildisawitness project here

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