Short film depicting experiences of asylum seekers in Northumberland town to open at Woodhorn Museum
Northumberland-born photographic artist, Jamie Sinclair – a former student of Ashington High School – will present his first ever solo exhibition at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland from 14 October 2023 to 25 February 2024.
The exhibition will feature his poignant and inspiring short film Hjem, which depicts the experiences of asylum seekers settling in the Northumberland town of Ashington, and a series of photographic works from the same project.
Taking its name from the Nordic and Northumbrian word for home, Hjem (pronounced ‘yem’) was also used in Pitmatic, a dialect spoken in the coalpits of Ashington. Filmed over a three-month period during the summer of 2022, it follows the stories of some of the most recent and vulnerable migrants to Ashington. Jamie’s directorial debut explores the hospitality, kindness, and love that has welcomed people to the town.
Jamie Sinclair, said: “I’ve always been frustrated by the biased and negative opinions towards those seeking asylum in the UK, and I wanted to create a body of work close to my heart.
“I’ve worked a lot with refugees and asylum seekers over the years, and for my first film I wanted to bring it home, to where it all began for me – Ashington.”
Jamie developed his interest in photography and filming by attending art summer schools at Woodhorn Museum as a child. He went on to take part in the Museums Northumberland bait programme as a member of the editorial team of local people who produced the The Ashington District Star, a free newspaper and photographic journal inspired by the Ashington Group painters.
In 2015, Jamie travelled to Calais to meet refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. He said: “It was really eye opening to see how kind everybody was, the hospitality, and I learnt a lot about their experiences.”
Jamie went on to set up a charity with some friends to raise money, cross the Channel, and use it to build shelters for people. In 2022 Jamie was awarded funding to develop Hjem through Arts Council England’s Develop Your Creative Practice Fund and the Rebecca Vassie Trust Memorial Award.
Jamie continued: “In around 2020 I became aware of an organisation called Northumberland County of Sanctuary (NCOS), which was set up to welcome refugees and asylum seekers who were being sent to North East England to live.
“After meeting Anne Murray and the rest of the team, I knew I wanted to tell their story; and the people they work with.”
Hjem shares the personal and heartfelt stories of Saman Sheri who travelled to the UK from Kurdistan, and the Betancour family who left their home country to start a new life in North East England. The 11-minute film explores their experiences of living in Ashington, and the support and welcome they have received from local people and the Northumberland County of Sanctuary. Capturing the simple pleasures of Jamie’s childhood summer holidays, but with new friends, Hjem encourages the viewer to look at their own culture and place of origin with fresh eyes.
Anne Murray from the Northumberland County of Sanctuary features in the film. She said: “We began with just a few people who were aware asylum seekers were going to be placed in Northumberland and they wouldn’t get any help from Northumberland County Council, or anyone else for that matter.
“Anything they needed, we used to ask friends and relatives. We used to get donations of money. We started from very small beginnings with a very small number of asylum seekers. And it grew, and it grew, and then we became a charity.”
Rowan Brown, chief executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “The stability and availability of work in Ashington’s coal mining industry in the 19th and 20th centuries attracted economic migrants from across the UK and beyond. Ashington grew from a small hamlet to ‘the biggest pit village in the world’ and became a new ‘hjem’ for many thousands of people.
“Coalfield communities have proved themselves inclusive, welcoming, and centered around home and community life. These characteristics are reflected in Jamie’s poetic film; painting a picture of a Northern town that has opened its arms to people from every corner of the world.
“We’re delighted to be presenting Jamie’s first ever solo exhibition at Woodhorn Museum, and giving people across Northumberland, the North East and beyond, the chance to see this heartwarming film.”
Jamie said: “This body of work shares the stories of refugees, asylum seekers and local volunteers, but really it’s a film about hospitality and kindness, showing people creating joy and looking forward to the future rather than being asked to focus on the past.
“Returning to Woodhorn Museum as a leading artist with a solo show is the stuff of dreams for me. It’s an incredible feeling and something that feels like a huge achievement to have my first major show on home terf.
“As my career begins to take off, I couldn’t be happier than I started right here on home ground.”
Hjem appears at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland from 14 October 2023 to 25 February 2024 and has been made possible by funding from Arts Council England, The Rebecca Vassie Trust Memorial Award and Northumberland County Council.
Entry to Woodhorn Museum is free for children aged 0-16, with an admission charge of £7 for adults and £6 for concessions. All passes are valid for unlimited visits for 12 months from the date of issue.
Woodhorn Museum is part of Northumberland’s museum service, Museums Northumberland, which cares for sites of historic interest and collections across the county. Museums Northumberland comprises Woodhorn Museum in Ashington, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, Hexham Old Gaol and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum.
For more information, images or interview requests, please contact David Brookbanks on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07948 563 612.