Storyhouse’s Festival of Languages: ‘life-affirming’

Storyhouse’s Festival of Languages was described by participants as ‘life-affirming’

A brand-new festival took place at Storyhouse last weekend: the Storyhouse Festival of Languages explored and celebrated the city’s diverse speaking cultures.

Primary school pupils opened the festival last Monday, sixteen schools from Cheshire West and Chester took part in a public speaking competition that explored the theme ‘No Outsiders’ based on a book by Andew Moffat (who judged final round). Speeches included young people talking about autism, down syndrome, their family heritage, the refugee crisis, bullying but above all the importance of being kind to one another.

Over 40 people took part in the city’s first ever Human Library on Saturday, ‘books’ included a borderline personality disorder, trans, tetraplegic, romany gypsy and drag. One reader said:

‘it was totally life-affirming and made me so happy.’

On Sunday over 150 people gathered in the Garret theatre for Syrian Stories. Resettled Syrian women Lamis Muqdad and Yasmin Sofi told a captivated audience their moving stories of fleeing Syria and how they have made a new life in Chester. The talk led the audience into an hour-long Q&A session.

Borough wide suicide support groups came together to lead a discussion on the importance of language when talking about suicide. The session was in partnership with groups Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, Chester Samaritans, Amparo Suicide Support and Listening Ear, the event was chaired by a representative from Cheshire West and Chester council’s suicide prevention board.

One attendee said the session had ‘saved her life’.

Alex Clifton, artistic director, Storyhouse said:

‘For a week our communities came together to explore how we live together and to get an insight into one another’s lives. We live in an increasingly polarised society, where the importance of kindness and connecting with one another has never been more crucial. One of the young people’s speeches summed up the festival: ‘we’re only human, so just be kind’.

There was Hungarian folk dance, traditional Chinese dance, Chester Indian Association performed, a kimono dressing demonstration and Mandarin handwriting for families in the children’s library.

At ‘motivational mics’ participants were given advice on how to improve their public speaking skills

and how women can smash the glass ceiling, audiences also heard from a German and Italian living in the city. Workshops included how to be confident when speaking in your second language and an open Italian and Spanish language class.

Year ten pupils from Blacon High School completed a poetry project with University of Chester MA student Connor Robinson. Other poetry events included a sell-out Slam Poetry Night and Mickle Trafford based Bengali poet Rasha Ahmed, performed on Sunday morning.

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