Culture and OpenCare

I have been offered a space and time as part of a large performing arts festival in London. The festival takes place in the underground vaults beneath Waterloo Station and runs from the end of January to the middle of March. Bringing performers, comedians and artists from around the world the festival is one of the largest and longest Fringe Theatre Festivals in the UK and is growing in stature every year. (

2017 will see a significant collaboration between the Vault Festival team and Crew for Calais (the charity through which i volunteered in France in 2016)

Ostensibly, we are collaborating with them as their selected charity. For us it is a way of raising funds and awareness of our charity within the Performing Arts Industry, and amongst the wider public. We hope to attract more potential volunteers from the theatre industry to donate their valuable skills and experience to help refugees and assylum seekers in the UK and abroad, as well as the funds to support this work financially. It’s our opportunity to scale up our fundraising and outreach work by working with an exciting partner in the UK capital.

We are planning to run a hackathon around refugee issues as part of the fetsival.

A half-day event aimed at blowing the conversation around UK refugee and asylum processes wide open. We want to think big and small; we want to find new methods of helping and supporting refugees in the UK and further afield; we want to understand more about the landscape of refugee service provision; we want to learn from others already working in new and exciting ways with refugee communities.

This hackathon exists to give Vault festival audience members, creative professionals and those working in refugee support services a chance to come together and creatively address some of the challenges faced by those seeking asylum in the UK and Europe.

So often we feel like we are individually powerless to improve their opportunities available to refugees, or we cannot stand up to the weight of public and government opinion against us. This is an opportunity to prove that this is not the case. That every single person can do something to help improve the opportunities for refugees within their own communities and beyond. A positive space for thinking how we can make positive change.

A whole afternoon event, the alchemy of it will be designed to call all there into action, during which new working methods will be hacked.

Right now i’m looking for help and support from anyone in the ER community who might have experience of, or interest in participatingman event like this. We’re at the start of the process where we approach people and orgs that are already doing work on Positive change. As the OpenCare community has brought so many interesting and positive of refugee support and welfare stories to light i hope to find some stories to share from within the community.

The starting point is to see who might be interested in sharing some tips and suggestions about the event.

I would also be keen to hear any expressions of interest from participants.

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Great news, well done!

@melancon and I are just back from Hacking Health Bordeaux. It had many good things, but also a lame Silicon Valley rhetoric to it (three minutes pitches with techno music, work interrupted every 20 minutes by unsolicited coaches… the narrative was “undergrad student with idea wants to do tech startup”).

On the other hand, there is really amazing stuff in opencare. Really great experiences from which to learn. Maybe @Noemi and @Nadia can advise on how that material and the community can be deployed to help you. Maybe we can even collaborate actively.

Are you sure you need software stuff? You speak of “working methods”… can you tell us what a successful outcome would be?

Low tech

I don’t percieve the event as being massively tech related. For me it’s about getting lots of minds into a room and hacking through a series of ideas. It’s really useful to have the knowledge from attending ER events around HackPads and shared note taking etc. More hints and tips of ways to get maximum participation and collective intelligence out of event like this would be helpful though.

We’ve attended panel discussions in the UK about refugee support and the end feeling is always a very negative one, the focus is so often on what cannot be achieved. We want to end on an optimistic note, to send people out realising that there are small things they can do in their own communities that will make a big positive impact on the lives of others.

For me there are a number of possible positive outcomes:

  1. We connect the attendees of the event together, bringing new support and volunteers to organisations in the UK (and further afield), creating the opportunity for collaboration and skills sharing in the future.

  2. We do some ‘blue sky’ thinking around refugee and community cohesion. Thinking up ways that citizen led projects could help build services in the UK to better serve the needs of both refugees and their local communities. This could bring in case studies from ER community members around Europe.

  3. We set out to solve a problem that the people who are likely to attend could help solve. The number one target on my list is: How can we change the prevaling narrative about refugees in the UK? As part of this has to do with the stories we tell about them, and who tells them, it fits really nicely into the other work that we are producing at the festival as well.

We’ve commissioned and are producing 6 pieces of performance art/theatre each one based on the data and statistics in one of the 6 Refugee Rights Reports about Calais. ( The idea in the words of my collaborator and ‘boss’ Katharine is “: the Refugee Rights Data Project collect data directly from the refugees in the camps of northern France.  Their reports are filled with facts (not fury or romanticism, facts). In a series of five stripped-back performances, Crew for Calais artists use music, theatre and the Refugee Rights Data Project reports to connect us with the day-to-day experiences of the refugees in Calais and beyond.”

I don’t expect that we can achieve all 3 objectives i outlined above in a short space of time. But if we can manage to do either 2 or 3 then i think 1 will start to happen automatically. I think right now (as i’m planning this in my head) I would try to bookend bits of 3 around 2 so that people can be drawn into the discussion by looking at positive case studies, then launch into a session dealing with a specific question, and then at the end bring it back to some other case studies so that people go away feeling empowered.

I see that this could be an opportunity to reach out to refugee support services that run in the UK and get them to feed their stories of ‘caring for people on the move’ into the OpenCare structure as well. I know that this part of the process will be ‘over’ by February but it can’t help to keep feeding interesting cases into the network.

Enough waffle for now. Did i answer your question?

Low tech => good

Things like instructables and lists of needed items could be outputs (seen this?).

On data about refugees, there is also OpenMigration. If someone from your side wants a way in, my friend and onetime collaborator Antonella Napolitano helps run it. They are quite disillusioned with hackathons – this post might help you design your own:

Thank you

That article by Tin is very powerful and helpful.

There’s a few ideas spinning around there already. My ‘concern’ is that the event is aimed at both experts and interested amateurs so using a workathon method might not work in that environment.

However, i might go back to the Fetsival team and see if they have space to do something similar on another date. We’re in a really strong position to manage some of the outcomes that he describes because of things like:

If we wanted to we could also get HelpRefugees and LeisureFayre to organise an up-to-date list of the most essential items and work towards them on a day.

Damn, now i might have to organise 2 things!

Try to do 2 events

I reached out to Tin and he says he’d be willing to help step me through the idea.

So i think i’m going to be prototyping the workathon project at the festival as well as running a more traditional approach to problem solving.

Thanks for the inspiration @alberto.

How we could collaborate actively

Mighty Alex!

A loose collaboration can simply be inventoring who in the community is doing great work already - in Berlin, Thessaloniki etc and you can then reach out depending on the direction you and Crew for Calais are going for.

For a more active collaboration, we’d figure the direction together. I am interested at supporting people’s work - so bringing forward specific challenges already identified: for example Aravella needs to set up a knowledge base of sorts for refugee aid preparedness, drawing from her and other people’s experience.  Can that be something to “hack” in an afternoon?

Also: what resources are available (a space? traveling funds for community members to attend? manpower to run a proper campaign to engage people to contribute ahead of the event? IMO, what made Open&Change workshops last months run nicely is having a common set of stories to know where people are coming from, which are gathered previously.

A number of possibilities

I definitely think that the loose collaboration would be beneficial. As i mentioned in my responce to Alberto above, the need to have examples of positive actions that have been made by citizen-led organisations will be (i think) a cornerstone of the whole afternoon and a way of inspiring action in the participants.

With regards a more in depth collaboration, we are definitely limited in the physical resource that we can dedicate to the project. We have been gifted the space, which will have access to bars and restaurants and all the periferal things that may be needed for participants. Right now we don’t have any finance to spend on bringing in speakers or participants. My next step us to reach out to potential collaborators (so we know we will have some people in the room with experience and direct interest) but ultimately we want it to be an open event for anyone. It is possible that we might be able to encourage one or more of these collaborators to offer small amounts of money to help bring in people from further afield. Right now i don’t know til i ask them.

With regards manpower, well realistically it’s just me and my computer, however, because we are running these series of events and shows within the festival (and they are fundraising for us on their main ticket page as well) we do have the network of the festival and all of it’s associated PR and Media that we can latch onto. Provided that we can hit their deadlines for media (which i’m confident we can) we can use that as a strong source to bring in interested brains. I think we’ll attract a lot of interested amatuers (like myself a year ago) which is why it is very important that we can tempt in some ‘experts’.

With regards Aravella’s question. I think it might be too specific for an event within an arts festival. I think it is a brilliant question, and i can think of a number of useful organisations and people from the Calais camps who would be perfect to bring 1st hand knowledge and experience to addressing a question like that. As a number of them will soon be turning their attention back towards supporting Greece perhaps this is something we could try to organise in Greece instead. My next big email is to the team at Help Refugees who i know are working on the ground in Thessaloniki. Seems like fate to me!

How can I help?

Hey @Alex_Levene, great initiative! As you know I’ve been involved in refugee care in Armenia for a couple of years now and right now I’m working on my own art project The Return: Environmental Portraits of the Syrian Refugees in Armenia together with my friend photographer Anush Babajanyan of 4Plus Photography. The final product will be a photo exhibition and storytelling event that aimes to bring awareness to the issues of Syrian refugees in Armenia.

@Noemi just told me about your initiative and I’ll be happy to help. Let me know how we can collaborate!