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City of Light, City of Sanctuary

‘Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.’

Stephen Chbosky

I remember reading this as a teenager, not necessarily my favourite of books, but it resonated with me, stirring something that began my life-long fascination with cities.

When the Lantern Company approached us at Writing on the Wall (WoW) to partner on this project, City of Light, City of Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance. Obviously, the idea of a floating city of lanterns captivated me but it was the opportunity to talk to people and communities about cities, about what they mean to us. An opportunity to share memories, some positive, some painful, to create new, exciting work and then go on to record it all. That to me, seemed like the perfect project.

WoW worked alongside four wonderful writers, Cheryl Martin, Ashleigh Nugent, Jeff Young and Lizzie Nunnery, to deliver writing workshops with people from across our city. Some had been here all their lives, some were newly arrived, some were here for shelter, others found love and never left. It was a melting pot of experiences and that was what made it so important.

There is something about being in a city isn’t there? Completely surrounded by life but also being entirely alone at the same time. Somewhere were anything is possible. Cities can be a source of great joy, nights out when lights, and memories, blur into one, journeying out into new streets in unknown places, but they can also be a place of great pain. Stories of isolation, fear and loss littered this project but there was an overwhelming sense of resilience and happiness too.

My previous jobs have given me the great pleasure of working with people from all over the world, particularly with people who have come to this city to seek refuge, in search of support or a ‘better life’, whatever that may mean. I know all to well the importance of community and acceptance, feeling like we belong. That can be a long, fraught process for some but I think this project offered an opportunity to support existing communities and to create new ones, to have others not only listen to our stories but understand our experience.

And it isn’t just people coming into our city that found a voice through this project, as we get older there can be a sense that we lose a connection to the places we live. They change before us, as do our lives, our bodies, our health, our relationships to ourselves and our cities, often without our approval. Memories and stories from older communities were vital to building this project, bringing together the young and the old, the new and the traditional and realising that cities belong to everyone and should welcome us all.

We laughed, we cried, but most importantly we shared. And that is the power of telling our stories. Standing up and being heard. We are part of the fabric of this city, our memories line its streets and long after we have gone our words will remind those after us that we were here.

Emma Hulme

Programme Manager

Writing on the Wall are partnering with Lantern Company to bring you City of Light, City of Sanctuary, a magical floating city of lanterns on the park’s boating lake from 20th to 24th February. Find out more about the spectacular events and book your tickets here