Open House has been running as part of the SPINE Festival since 2017. The project is specifically devised for refugee and migrant communities in London, allowing participants to creatively explore language through culture. This year (2021) was the last year Open House was part of SPINE festival and we thought it would be great to reflect what took place this year, and in previous years, at this event.

We asked the facilitator and artist. Güneş Güven, to explain her thoughts about experiences around Open House and SPINE. In particular, what it means to work with refugee and migrant communities and how creativity can bring us together no matter what language we speak.

How it all started

Back in 2017, Tobi Kyeremateng, one of the producers of SPINE Festival, reached out to ask whether I would be interested in delivering and developing an ESOL focused programme as part of the festival with Apples & Snakes. Over the last five years we have shared beautiful moments of connection, storytelling, creative writing and beyond with refugees and asylum seeking families across various London boroughs. Participants get to explore language creatively focusing on the festival’s annual theme as inspiration through connection-driven sessions. 

Highlights of Open House over the years

Back in 2017, we delivered workshops in Southwark and Ealing libraries. Dulwich Library participated in the Spine festival and we worked with newly arrived families from Eastern Europe, Syria, Iran and The Congo. In Ealing, we delivered workshops in the Central Library and worked with the existing migrant communities who wanted to improve their language and communication skills. 

“Families wrote about their hopes and dreams for their new lives in the UK improving their communication skills in the process.”

We continued working with Southwark in 2018, delivering workshops in partnership with Dulwich Library & Barry House, a hostel for newly arrived asylum seekers. Participants shared their personal stories and explored the art of storytelling through poetry. The families wrote about their hopes and dreams for their new lives in the UK improving their communication skills in the process. 

“As someone who volunteers for food banks, I believe that food is a great tool that brings people together and allows communities to flourish.”

The theme of SPINE 2019 was Wellbeing, this time working with Newham & Croydon boroughs to deliver workshops in Plaistow and Thornton Heath libraries. Through a series of workshops, participants shared wellbeing traditions and habits leading to a final gathering involving exchanging recipes they wrote during the sessions as well as sharing dishes from their home countries for the final gathering. 

Last year, participants from Central Library in Croydon and Plaistow library in Newham learned new vocabulary relating to climate change to tie in with the Spine theme, Our World. They shared their own perspectives and opinions about the state of our natural world. They spoke about the natural resources from their countries and villages in Afghanistan rely solely on solar energy for electricity. In the following sessions, we researched ways in which we could up-cycle everyday objects such as water bottles to create planters. We then had a seed sharing session, exchanging chilies and flowers for them to grow in their own homes. 

Open House 2021: Empathy

We delivered workshops focusing on the theme of ’empathy’ for SPINE 2021 in partnership with Sutton and Islington boroughs. It was an honour to collaborate with The British Red Cross in Islington this summer, the organisation does incredible work in helping young migrants navigate their new lives in the UK. For one of the sessions, we took the young people to their local library in Islington to sign them up for membership and introduce the services they provide. We explored this year’s theme together with both boroughs through poetry, stories and music. In Sutton, for the first time, Open House was delivered mostly online which worked surprisingly well for adult participants. They wrote some wonderful poems in English, some even translated poems they had written in their mother tongues. When we met for our last session in person, we had a poetry picnic where everyone shared the final versions of their poem. 

About Günes Güven

Open House is lead by ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) specialist and artist Güneş Güven.

Güneş is an ESOL specialist with over twenty years of experience in working with migrant communities across London both in an academic and cultural capacity. Cultivating connection-driven sessions, Güneş explores the complexities of immigrant identity and journey. 

She has been developing and delivering the Open House Project as part of SPINE Festival over the last 6 years in collaboration with Apples & Snakes across several London Boroughs. 

Her previous projects involve collaborations with Battersea Arts Centre, The Heritage Trust, LIFT, The Agency & Chelsea Football Club Foundation. 

When she’s not busy juggling the above alongside motherhood, you can find her volunteering at community gardens, organising cultural events or DJ’ing.