I know that when we set up Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees in 2015 we were motivated by wanting to do something to rebut the prevailing negativity about ‘migrants’ and had no idea of the range of activities that we would subsequently arrange and little idea of how big a part the group would become of so many lives. I’d certainly never envisaged that we would be organising a Book Launch and selling a beautiful art book.
I suspect none of us ever realised that when Eugene Fisk at the first meeting suggested that he might draw people who were seeking sanctuary that this would become an activity that was much appreciated by the people he drew, was something that would give him great joy and would increase many people’s understanding of the plight of those people so stigmatised by popular media. Details about Eugene can be found here and here.
So it was that on the 8th April 2018 at the Globe in Hay As part of the Hay Independence celebrations and Bookstagram festival we held a launch party for the book ‘Only Connect’. All arrangements were very kindly and expertly made by Anne of Addyman’s Bookstore but any errors made were due to our inexperience alone. The date itself was somewhat controversial as Sean who had helped Eugene with so many travel arrangements to our days out and gave such encouragement to the process of making the book was away. He however insisted that we should launch the book as part of the festival rather than seek another time.
We were delighted that Wayne was able to attend from Swansea with several of the people that are in the book.
The proceedings were started by showing a short film made last year by a man seeking sanctuary about the day out at Crai. Then Margaret Blake, Chair of HBTSR , gave the background to our group’s formation and outlined the three strands of our work in providing days out/respite for people seeking sanctuary, raising monies and collecting goods to provide aid to such people in our nearby cities as well as abroad and also trying to educate ourselves and others about their needs and try to encourage our elected representatives to make the country more welcoming. Eugene’s book documents the first, will help to raise money and should be educational as well- thus combining all our aims in one.
The second presentation was by Kate Milsom who had been a good friend to Eugene and Kilvert’s Gallery and spoke with slides about his life and the importance that he had placed upon his interactions with people seeking refuge. Next to speak was Neil Jones, Graphic Designer and one of our very active supporters who with his wife Cate had worked with Eugene upon producing the beautiful art book from the sketch books and writings. He paid tribute to Catriona Mireylees who had typed up all of Eugene’s thoughts about the people included and his involvement with the book. He also told of the precise instructions that he had followed including a final note just days before Eugene’s sad demise which had included photos and a description of the colour for the cover.
Then Deacon Reverend Barry Taylor told of his introduction to the group by Eugene and how he truly felt that this was an example of God’s kingdom on earth. Simon Pettifer then paid tribute to Eugene and read a letter that he had been given after Eugene’s death. Finally Ailsa spoke about the positive impact of the drawings upon the sitters- giving dignity, importance and recognition to people who often at best feel invisible and at worst like pariahs.
To Quote’ His role was to draw portraits of the refugees, to give them a sense of being seen as individuals, recognised for who they were. He knew it was something he could do to ameliorate people’s dissociation from their previous lives, as he had done for fellow conscripts during National Service. He used art to enrich life.’
Several generous supporters have asked that we try to give everyone featured in the book a copy and so we took the opportunity to give copies to the people who attended with Wayne and Thanu spoke poignantly about how much she had appreciated both the process of being drawn with her daughter and the kindness of Eugene in sending her a copy of the drawing. She spoke for all of the people in a similar situation to say how the friendship of HBTSR made a big difference to their lives.
We were then able to show two short but moving films made in Ystradgynlais about people seeking refuge . The first one ‘Uncle Ahmad’s Canary’ was made by the Syrian families who now live there and was narrated by 2 twelve year old girls who had previously had little schooling and have only learnt English since arriving here. They pay tribute to their new homes and say how safe they feel. The second was made by high school children in Ystradgynlais about Refugee artist Josef Hermann and a phrase he used sticks in my mind. ‘I came for 2 weeks and stayed 11 years because everything I needed was here.” Let’s hope that we can provide that sort of environment for others.
And so this well attended event finished on time with the distribution of Raffle prizes, some generously given by Anne and book publishers. In addition to the book sales we raised over £100 some of which was used to pay for the travel expenses of the Swansea visitors. A good day and experience but I doubt if I’ll be needed to launch further books!
Thanks to all of Eugene’s friends who attended, to our speakers, to Wayne and sanctuary seekers , To Melrose for running the raffle, to Lawrence for distributing drinks, to Philip for becoming a bookseller,to all our supporters who came and especially to Anne and The Globe for making it possible.
If anyone wants to buy copies of the book then they are on sale with all proceeds coming to HBTSR at Addyman’s bookshops, Booths Bookshop and via [email protected] or using reference ‘Only Connect’ at https://paypal.me/GreenInkBooksellers .