Ahmad is a Syrian student who left his home in Aleppo during the recent conflict. He studied English language and literature at Aleppo University before fleeing Syria for the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Once there, Ahmad worked as a volunteer teaching English in Syrian refugee camps and later joined the UN to work for both the Syrian Refugee Response and the Iraqi Displaced People Response after Mosul fell to ISIS. His work gave him the opportunity to assist people from a huge variety of backgrounds including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Arabs and Turks fleeing war in both Syria and Iraq.
Later, due to the increasing instability in the region, Ahmad was forced to flee Iraq, at which point he set out for the UK, embarking on an unimaginably perilous journey from the Middle East.
He has now been granted asylum in the UK and since his arrival has been working with various grassroots and volunteer groups - advocating for refugee rights and child refugees. He has also spoken in the UK Parliament on several occasions and appeared on the BBC, ITV, and Sky, and his articles have also appeared in The Guardian and The Independent. He regularly participates in panels, events and public debates to raise awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees. Having recentlycompleted his MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development at SOAS, the University of London, Ahmad is now working as a consultant for the International Organisation for Migration. In this role he is focusing on the integration of Syrians resettled in the UK through the Syrian Vulnerable People Resettlement Scheme. To learn more about the work of the IOM, you can visit their website here.
Ahmad visited Open Minds in 2017 and gave a heart-stopping account of his journey from Syria to the UK. Later, he facilitated a team game with the students to represent aspects of his journey. The following day, he spent the morning in the classroom with the Open Minds students discussing the Syrian conflict, the situation with displaced peoples and the global migration crisis and the media portrayal of conflict across cultures. The students gained a huge amount from the experience and were incredibly moved to get to know Ahmad and to hear his story first-hand in such an intimate setting.
Ahmad is the patron of the Open Minds Al-Rashid scholarship, which you can learn more about here.
The Candlestick Collective
The Candlestick Collective provided an evening of mystery and wonder. They are a group of actors from nearby Bristol who provide immersive, theatrical experiences that take people on a journey of the imagination. On their evening with us, the students were invited to attend a 70s-disco party. However, this was no ordinary disco. The students became a part of an intriguing and, at times, surreal journey involving characters such as: Tina So Fresh and So Cleaner (the cleaner), Brandy Pussikins (the roller waitress), Daphni Disco (the Jazz singer), Foxy Casablanca (the finance manager), Tony Revolter (the greatest dancer) and Grievous Bodily Harmsworth (the bouncer). The students did a fantastic job of navigating the twists and turns of the story and building their confidence through creativity and use of the imagination.
Raised in Tottenham, North London, Zena Edwards has become known as one of the most unique voices of performance poetry to come out of London, she was nominated for the Arts Foundation Award for Performance Poetry 2007, the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship Award 2017, and won the Hidden Creatives Award 2012, for Youth Engagement through the Arts. Zena has been involved in performance for over 20 years – as a writer/poet, performer, educator and creative project developer after graduating in Drama, Media and Communications Studies at Middlesex University. She studied at LISPA - London School of International Performance Art and has been mentoring young and emerging artists in arts vocation and campaigning since 2010. As a poet, Zena's writing for performance explores the creative voice immersed in issues exploring collective and personal revolution in the midst of social injustice and all its intersections. Her poems articles and blogs for social and environmental issues, race and power are published in Open Democracy, Dance the Guns to Silence in Commemoration, The Ogoni 9, Platform London’s Blog - Featured in Riots Reframed documentary – Voice Over Films, and Loose Muse New Writing for Women. She is the Creative and Education Director for Verse In Dialogue (©️ViD) and umbrella social enterprise that produces projects that focus on live literature, creative inter-generational community engagement and well being, transformational learning and liberatory practice.
Sean is a photographer and filmmaker who runs a successful freelance business and a growing online presence where he seeks to inspire like-minded creatives coming up the ladder behind. His YouTube channel, in particular, has grown to over 100 thousand subscribers with over 2.5 million views and 50,000 followers on his Instagram account. Sean has created a vibrant and positive community online through both his YouTube channel and Instagram account (@seantuck) where his inspirational and often movingly honest videos and photography have helped to nurture a much-needed conversation about what it means to be creative in an online world now saturated with imagery.
Sean is passionate about helping others to reach their creative potential and, more importantly, to enjoy the creative journey that pursuits such as photography can lead you on. He joined us to share his story, philosophy, and expertise and to guide the students to a deeper way of seeing the world around them through the medium of photography.
An experimental percussive ensemble that emerged from South London in autumn of 2013. Led by percussionist and composer Greta Eacott, the band has gone on to release two E.Ps and their debut album, Punctuations In Space (recorded in various non-studio settings) and toured in UK and Scandinavia, with a flexible line-up featuring different combinations of players from across Europe. Their high tension acoustic live shows bring fresh and abstract musical ideas together with a clarity and direction, making the g.bop orchestra as at home touring with a pop band as they are in an art gallery.
G.Bop Orchestra visited Open Minds in 2018 and created an intriguing and challenging musical concept for the students to interact with. Surrounding the space with several instruments; drums, marimba, double bass, the students were invited to explore the space and learn to play the 'instrument' that it had become. By treading, walking, running and dancing on different areas of the floor they were able to get the musicians to play different parts of their instruments and at different tempos. The students had a great time exploring their creativity whilst playing with the music. After a short break, the students had the opportunity to watch a performance of G. Bop Orchestra's song 'Pile Up'. This is an avant-garde piece which took many of the students out of their comfort zones and gave them the chance to engage with musical concepts that were, in most cases, quite alien to them - all part of the Open Minds experience!
After taking part in a poetry workshop 'Voices that Shake', Annie began to perform her poetry in February 2013. Since then she has performed at venues such as The House of Commons, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the first ever Winchester Poetry Festival. Annie's poems are designed to challenge perceptions and empower the listener to think about big ideas more deeply. Understanding how it feels to not have a voice, she hopes her poems can empower audiences to speak out and build a more positive community through the spoken word.
Motionhouse is a world-class contemporary dance-circus company with three decades of experience putting on powerfully emotive shows across the globe and we were thrilled to welcome them as our special guests for Course A in 2019. As a company, they are known for their visually stunning and visionary performances and their visit in 2019 was no exception.
Students had an opportunity to participate in a workshop with one of the dancers, before watching a performance of two duets ‘Knot’ and ‘Lost’. These pieces combined extreme physicality with complex lifts and contact choreography to delve into our inner lives and our relationships with others.
For more information about Motionhouse, visit their website - www.motionhouse.co.uk
Motionhouse is supported using public funding through Arts Council England.
Button Bashers - Simon Panrucker and Katie Storer
In Course B of 2019, we were treated to an irreverent show by Button Bashers. This show was originally a street performance and retained its informal character. The non-verbal show combined comedic routines and audience participation, set to a soundtrack of live-looped mini pocket trumpets and a mini-synthesiser that the performances created whilst on stage. It was an interactive piece that integrated choreographed physical sequences and brought the audience onto the stage for a series of ridiculous games.
The show focused on connection and the breaking down of the barriers that come between strangers and helped the students to cast of their inhibitions and enjoy an evening of silliness and play.