A group of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students from Bradford College have been given the remarkable opportunity to showcase their talent at the prestigious Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as part of the annual Refugee Week celebrations. The event, named ‘Moving Stories,’ is organised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and will take place on Sunday, June 25, marking the grand finale of Refugee Week, a globally acclaimed arts and culture festival that celebrates the resilience, creativity, and contributions of refugees and individuals seeking sanctuary.

The Bradford College ESOL students, who primarily speak English as a second language, consist of numerous refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have recently arrived in the country as early as January this year. In recognition of their exceptional abilities, the students have been invited to perform alongside other thought-provoking sketches, short plays, and songs that explore the diverse experiences of refugees.

The group will embark on a journey from Bradford to London to present ‘Because,’ a compelling script penned by the internationally acclaimed British playwright, David Edgar. In honour of Refugee Week, the play was released without copyright restrictions and recounts the poignant tale of an ESOL teacher who unravels the past of one of her students.

Joining the students on this momentous evening will be a stellar cast of renowned personalities, including Sir Simon Russell Beale CBE, David Morrissey, Omar Baroud, Mackenzie Crook, Rakie Ayola, Caroline Sheen, Ray Fearon, and many more. These esteemed artists have generously volunteered their time to support the UN refugee agency, with all profits from the event dedicated to aiding refugees affected by the war in Ukraine.

Bradford College boasts a long-standing commitment to working with marginalized groups and has garnered recognition as the first College of Sanctuary in West Yorkshire by City of Sanctuary UK. The region, which is home to Bradford, has the privilege of receiving approximately 13% of the UK’s asylum seekers, with Bradford being one of the four key locations that witness the highest proportion of arrivals.

Esther Wilkey, an ESOL Lecturer at Bradford College, shared her enthusiasm, stating, “Bradford College has fostered a deep connection with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Several years ago, we initiated the ‘Shakespeare Club’ as an innovative method of teaching English to ESOL students, particularly asylum seekers and immigrants who often face unique challenges such as trauma, isolation, and caregiving responsibilities.”

Wilkey further explained, “The Shakespeare Club incorporates RSC warm-up techniques employed by actors to enhance skills like eye contact, teamwork, and self-confidence. Through this program, our students engage with native English speakers, fostering cross-cultural unity among classmates from diverse backgrounds. Collaborating with the RSC and local city theatre collective, we rehearse scenes from Shakespeare’s plays to develop English speaking, listening, and literacy skills. The club also delves into themes of identity, power, relationships, immigration, and safety. Over 500 students have benefited from this program, with many progressing from ESOL to GCSE and A Level courses and pursuing higher education across the country. We conduct workshops with RSC directors and actors, attend performances by touring companies at the Alhambra Theatre, and even visit Stratford-upon-Avon, opening up a whole new world for students who had never left the city since arriving in the UK.”

The upcoming Globe Theatre performance serves as a crowning achievement for the students following their active participation in various other events to commemorate Refugee Week. Recently, ESOL students from Entry 1 to Level 1 staged an edited version of Twelfth Night at the local Marie Curie Hospice on June 15, providing entertainment for outpatients and their families.

Furthermore, on June 20, the students hosted a community performance at the Bradford College Bronte Lecture Theatre. Entry 1 and 2 students presented simplified scripts outlining their scenes, while Entry 3 and Level 1 students showcased their talent in Shakespearean English.

The highlight of the evening came when the students performed ‘Because’ in the presence of the renowned playwright himself, David Edgar. Having written over sixty plays that have been successfully staged worldwide, Edgar expressed his delight, stating, “I was thrilled to learn that Bradford College ESOL department chose to work on my script for the Moving Stories project. During my time in Bradford from 1969 to 1974, the city was a truly exhilarating place, especially in terms of theatre and other aspects. Therefore, I am particularly thrilled that you are undertaking this endeavour.”

Esther Wilkey added, “We were overwhelmed by the prospect of David Edgar attending the performance. It has been an absolute privilege to work on his script, and it is heartwarming to see his connection to Bradford. Throughout my ten years here, I never imagined the incredible opportunities that my students and I would experience in this wonderfully diverse and welcoming city. Many of the students performing have firsthand knowledge of the ‘Because’ storyline, and the process of working on the script has been both humbling and inspiring as students have shared their experiences as refugees and asylum seekers with one another.”

As the curtain prepares to rise at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the talents and stories of these remarkable ESOL students from Bradford College promise to captivate and inspire audiences, amplifying the voices of refugees and shedding light on their resilience and unwavering spirit.