Sarah Stewart, an AHRC DTP Student pursuing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in the Department of English, speaks to the success and future promise of her co-organised, SGSAH-funded bibliotherapy development event for migrant, refugee, and asylum seeking communities in Scotland.
When I went to the Freedom from Torture readings (part of Amnesty International’s Imprisoned Writers Sessions) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2012, I thought ‘I want to do that’.
‘That’ has turned out to mean: to learn from and to help, through stories and poetry, people isolated in my community by the distress of their displacement. Freedom from Torture has writing groups around the UK that facilitate creative writing and reading as part of a range of therapeutic practices for refugees and asylum seekers. Suddenly, I had discovered an astonishingly direct way that my bookishness could actually help me to welcome others.
Fast forward to 2015: I had talked to a number of people and visited groups, but I hadn’t really got anything going. In September, however, I started a PhD and suddenly found myself in a much better position to access funding and resources. To cut a long story short, co-organisers Poppy Kohner, Jess Orr and I received Cohort Development Funding from SGSAH to bring experienced people into a room with the aim of really getting to grips with what one would need to establish a practicing group. This past Friday, we had our training event—Getting the Word Out—that resulted in establishing a network of lively, supportive, like-minded people. Under the auspices of the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet), the GRAMNet Bibliotherapy Resource Network seeks to bring together people, particularly postgraduate students and academics but also interested members of the public, who wish to be involved in setting up and/or attending reading and writing groups that cater to members of the migrant, refugee and asylum seeking community across Scotland. Friday’s event left us buzzing, to say the least.
Through round-tables, workshops and chats between sessions, I learned so much from everyone who came: from funding application dos and don’ts (remember to factor in child-care!), to ways of working with people still grasping basic English, to the importance of proper supervision. An insight that kept coming up—and that I have been mulling over ever since—was the significance of reading and writing in a group, together. There is something about processing information in the company of others, regardless of what that information is, that gives heart, and makes it safer to go on. Everyone in a group has responsibility for each other, has one another’s back to talk through images, histories and narrative, and, in case of incomprehensibility, just to be there. To witness.
On Wednesday the 22nd of June in Glasgow, we are coming together again to launch the Network to the wider community with a reading and writing taster session as part of the Scottish Refugee Festival. Please come along and be part of this community, even just for a few hours. We’d love to welcome you into the conversation.