Towards the end of 2022, Heart of England Community Rail Partnership (CRP) worked with Highly Sprung, a local physical theatre company, to deliver A Day Like This, which was funded by CrossCountry and Community Rail Network.
They worked with newly arrived families and individuals originally from Syria, but now living in Coventry, to develop rail confidence and familiarisation with the rail network. The focus was around the opportunities and places they can access through using the train.
Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre helped recruit participants for the project. They work with numerous newly arrived families; they were able to signpost and support not only the registration process but also the day trip and workshops which were part of the project.
Based in the new Community Hub at Coventry Station, and assisted by Lingo Link, who provided translation as many of the participants spoke little to no English, the project started with games, physical warm-ups and plenty of opportunities to get to know about each other. Highly Sprung explored how the families felt about rail travel in the UK and in Syria and the types of places they may like to discover on the railways. All the sessions were designed to empower participants to use the trains independently after the project and bring them together with others in similar situations. The CRP Officer produced a 'How to buy a train ticket' guide in Arabic for families to take away which talked through how to book tickets online. There were sessions on rail safety and a tour of Coventry station showing where people could go to continue their journeys by bus, bike or taxi and who to talk to when they needed assistance.
Sarah Worth, Executive Director of Highly Sprung, explains the next phase of the project, “The most exciting point of the project happened once we had learned the basics about train travel when we worked with the families to plan a very special day out. Having got to know more about each other during the sessions we were able to plan a day which really celebrated the interests, hobbies, and passions of the families we were working with. There was plenty of interest in wanting to experience the opportunities that being in nature provides, especially the chance to see different animals that the families perhaps hadn’t ever seen in their home countries. So, after much discussion it was decided that a trip to Mary Arden’s Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon would be the most exciting day out.
“On a very sunny day in October, we began our journey at Coventry Station where the families all gathered in excitement, they were almost as excited about the trip as we were. Even more excitingly the families had arranged a picnic full of homemade treats and dishes from their different cultures.
“Boarding the train at the train station was easily done thanks to the support from platform staff who demonstrated just how accessible train travel from Coventry can be. Only two out of the 25 family members on the trip had ever travelled by train before, so we enjoyed the opportunity to talk about what that first experience felt like as we hurtled through the Warwickshire countryside. My favourite comment was from one participant who couldn’t believe how smooth the train felt on the tracks and explained that at home the trains were so bumpy that you almost fell off your seat. Another highlight was seeing our youngest participant, only three years old, seeing sheep and cows for the first time and learning how to make the animals’ different sounds, the train carriage was soon full of moo-ing and baa-ing.’ (read the full blogpost here.)
Mary Arden’s Farm, in Wilmcote was the perfect trip. It has animals, space to run around, activities including pot painting and lots of games. The group spent several hours exploring the farm with one participant commenting, “This trip came at a time when we really needed it. There are so many pressures building on our own country. The trip allowed us to relax and just enjoy ourselves”. All the families expressed an interest in doing more group trips on the train.
After the workshops a mini exhibition at Coventry Station was held showcasing all the families photos they’d taken over the weeks, there was an opportunity for them to talk about their experiences, and a video was made to capture the project. Representatives from CrossCountry, Community Rail Network, the National Transport Museum and Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, joined the event as they were instrumental in making this project happen.
A Day Like This has created many opportunities for legacy work. From finding places to display the photos taken by the participants, to using the video to inspire future performance pieces by professionals, communities and schools, the experience and the resources created by the project can be used in numerous ways. Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre are very keen to repeat the project or work with the CRP in other ways, to continue to make an impact on the families and individuals who are newly arrived in the city.
Comments from Project Participants:
“The group was very joyful, and I really thank them for the efforts they made to make this joyful and comforting.”
“It was amazing.”
“We feel like a family.”
“We feel like we used to in our country when we can go out together. This trip made us feel like that again.”
“The children were all so excited. They dream of going on another trip like this again.”