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This one day conference, held as part of Nottingham Refugee Week, will explore how creativity can be used to resist the ‘hostile environment’ promoted against refugee and asylum-seeking communities within the UK. 

The day will consist of:

Registration: 10 am
Conference: 10.30 am – 5.30 pm for free food and drinks from the Syrian Vegan Kitchen
Comedy gig: 6 – 7 pm (a more detailed schedule can be found at the end of this page)

As cited in the IPPR’s ‘Access Denied’ report (September 2020), over the past decade and beyond, the UK has witnessed the mushrooming of an aggressively hostile system that denies basic human need to those seeking sanctuary across numerous sociocultural sectors – from policing, welfare, housing, health and education to Home Office immigration systems themselves.

In response to this pervasive discourse, however, counter-narratives and counter-practices have seeded and grown with astonishing vigour across the breadth of the sociocultural sphere – from the high-profile and high-visibility (arts festivals such as Counterpoints’ ‘Refugee Week’; Charwei Tsai’s film projection ‘Hear Her Singing’ on the Southbank Centre, London; the emergence of the Cities of Sanctuary network) to altogether subtler negotiations and refusals of hostility (‘living maps’ projects whereby newly arrived sanctuary-seekers annotate maps identifying resources of use to new communities, for instance; or refugee-led wellbeing services such as Vanclaron, that operate within Serco-run hotels to nurture positive mental health). While presenting ‘life-sustaining practices’ of creative ‘uprising’ and ‘innovation’ (Espiritu et. al., 2022), this emergent nexus of narratives and practices is yet to be placed in dialogue, and thus mobilised as a site of connective critical agency.

It is the task of ‘Hostile Environment, Artful Living’ to generate a pioneering platform for such essential criticality. Blurring the boundaries between academic discourse and community-engaged activity, this 1-day event presents a series of discursive platforms designed to initiate dialogue between those working ‘artfully’ within and against the hostile environment, across and between the arts, humanities, and community-engaged sociocultural sphere.

The day is organised around three Roundtables: ‘Narratives’, exploring the mobilisation of literary, story-based, festival-based and community-based narratives that ‘artfully’ rewrite the narrative of hostility; ‘Environments’, exploring ‘artful’ negotiations of public spaces such as housing, healthcare and green space; and ‘Leading the Conversation’, presenting ‘artful’ projects developed by creatives of lived refugee experience.

Each panel consists of four ‘headline’ speakers drawn from diverse academic, cultural-creative and community locations, who will offer 10-minute presentations designed to spark debate among the wider roundtable audience. Confirmed speakers include Allan Njanji (also conference co-convenor), filmmaker of lived refugee experience, whose work explores ‘refugee voice’ in documentary journalism; blog developer Hira Aaftab, presenting refugee-led blog Our World Too; editors Rubina Bala and Alexandros Plasatis, presenting refugee-led literary journal The Other Side of Hope; and storytelling producer Naomi Wilds, discussing community-based storytelling with young communities of sanctuary-seekers. We are honoured to be hosting a Keynote (via live weblink) from Yến Lê Espiritu, Distinguished Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, whose field-defining works on ‘critical refugee studies’ include the recent 2022 Departures and 2014 Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarised Refuge(es).

The day is bookended by performances from artists of lived refugee experience, opening with Florette Fetgo, spiritual artist of Cameroonian heritage, whose public actively contest police hostility in Nottingham; and closing with a gig from refugee-led comedy collective, No Direction Home.

We are proud to be serving complimentary food from the Nottingham-based refugee-led business, the Syrian Vegan Kitchen.

Throughout the day, our emphasis is on establishing collective, transdisciplinary dialogue on ‘hostile environment, artful living’, in the hope that our discussions will form the basis of an eventual edited collection of essays and interviews, and of an AHRC funding application.

Roundtable audience participants are invited from across every discipline and cultural sector, and are welcome to join for some or all of the day. Conference attendance includes complementary lunch courtesy of the refugee-led Syrian Vegan Kitchen, and entry to No Direction Home’s end-of-day comedy gig.

We also welcome posters, displays of projects and ‘cultural interventions’ that fit the theme of the event from participants.

The day’s events take place at Bonington Gallery, Nottingham Trent University city campus, which can be easily reached by tram or bus from Nottingham train station.

When I Dare to be Powerful International Conference explores the idea of voice as an agent for change and act of resistance.

Book your ticket

Click here to reserve your ticket for the free in person conference

When I Dare to be Powerful International Conference will bring filmmakers, artists, writers and activists together with conceptual thinkers and cultural theorists to answer pressing questions relating to voice as an agent of change.

Centred on voice as a lens through which we conceive of a social alterity that undermines current ideological dominance, we would like to invite proposals from academics, practitioners and activists interested in exploring coming to voice as an act of resistance. Has adequate progress been made in remedying the lived experience of minoritised people? How will social parity be achieved? Can dissent facilitate a space from which an alternative, socio-cultural narrative can thrive?

When I Dare To Be Powerful one-day conference offers a packed programme of events running up to and including the conference itself:

The conference period begins on 26th April and runs through to the one-day conference in June. Join us in the conversations relating to voice, around which our one-day conference is based.

The conference is free to attend and will take place in person on Wednesday 21st June 2023.

Visit our When I Dare To Be Powerful website to find our more about the conference timetable.


Professor Gus John and poet Yolanda Lear join Jenni Ramone’s Black Writing in Britain students and Formations audiences for a special event on the history of New Beacon Books and its place in the history of Black British publishing, writing, and activism.

Gus John discusses publishing, decolonisation, and the contemporary university. Yolanda Lear reads and discusses her poetry, and both speakers engage in conversation with English and Creative Writing students at NTU.

FORMATIONS is a public events series which foregrounds under-represented artists, writers, thinkers, and activists, run by NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre and Bonington Gallery.

Book your ticket

Click here to reserve your spot at this free online event.