A massive THANK YOU to everyone involved with the Northern Youth Fashion Event held on Friday 29th January at York University, the event has helped raise funds for RAY and also awareness. One of RAY's founders, Esme Madill, spoke at this event - here's her speech, please read it..
RAY, Refugee Action York is a small local charity which has been working with refugees and asylum seekers in this city for 13 years and we are overwhelmed that Ellie and Florence and the amazing team at Northern Youth chose to support RAY tonight. When I met Ellie and then had to report back to volunteers, staff and trustees at RAY that there was going to be an event with Anna Wintour and Katharine Viner and that a share of the money raised was going to come to RAY there was more than a little incredulity.
I normally send or am party to emails saying...“a friends is at risk of deportation, she will be killed if returned, please write to your MP, send letters of support, help me find a lawyer, please don’t give up on her …”
Or...“A family have just moved to York having fled a war zone – we need warm clothes and winter shoes and is there anyone who speaks French who can show them how to use a bus and reassure them they are safe…”
On a good day I email saying “I raised £73.80 at a bake sale.” So an email saying Anna Wintour and Katharine Viner will be in York along with a host of amazing Northern talent and they’ll be raising money for RAY got some very funny responses along the lines of … are you sure? (sub text - maybe you need an early night Esme?) and THE Anna Wintour and you mean THE Editor in Chief of the actual Guardian… (yes that would be the one). I want to try and convey to you in the next few minutes the importance of what the Northern Youth Team and THE Anna Wintour and Katherine Viner from the actual Guardian have done tonight
The skill and talent we have seen here this evening is mind blowing - the designers and musicians and models – what a total privilege to sit here and see that northern power house on display…following a conversation between two of the most influential women of my generation….Knowing a handful of full time students managed to pull this off in their ‘spare time’….I have organised enough little fund-raisers to have an inkling of how many 100s of hours of work has gone into tonight - it takes your breath away.
The thing about talent is, it is no respecter of country of birth or race or ethnicity. There are young people in Syria and Iraq, in Darfur and the Yemen right now who have talents and skills that could transform who knows what. We all know Steve Jobs was the child of Syrian immigrants, yet in Syria or Iraq right now there could be a second generation Steve Jobs waiting to ensure that my youngest daughter does actually cook her tea on the Iphone (not just spend the other 23 hours a day on it) or there could be a child somewhere who will take us to the next level in our search for a cure for cancer. I am sure there are future designers and musicians and artists and journalists right now, stuck in war zones, risking death in the Mediterranean, starving in Madaya. Because we all have to get on with our lives and keep our sanity it’s often easier to convince ourselves these young people, these families are different from our own and from the young people we know and love.
But recently there has been a grass roots move against this attempt to distance ourselves from a whole swath of humanity and Ellie and the team at Northern Youth and Katherine and Anna and everyone here tonight has joined that movement.
It seemed to start with Aylan Kurdi – a tiny child who died on the Mediterranean coast and who did not look ‘different’, he did not look ‘other’ or ‘alien’ or like a strange refugee, he looked remarkably like our nieces and nephews, our children and grandchildren and brothers and sisters - the children we know and love and teach and nurse. Everyone here tonight is part of a movement which is saying very clearly we won’t see the refugee as ‘other’ – we know we are bound by a common humanity and we are not leaving it to politicians or policy makers to do something about it. The Northern Youth decided they were not going to leave it to others – they decided to do something right here – right now. And they did and you have – by coming here tonight you have helped raise money – too much for RAY to get its head round …. remember we are the bake sale and 10 km sponsored run kind of a charity.
RAY will use your money so wisely. We have a very small team of amazingly dedicated staff and volunteers who go the extra mile day in and day out. We run a whole range of services from English classes and homework support to a youth club and a weekly shared meal.
But it is the work that never appears on the leaflets that makes what we do count – Pippa who works for us just part time, after a full day’s work at her office job, giving up her evening to cross the country to visit a very frightened man in detention knowing how alone he feels with no family to contact him - they are trapped in territory controlled by Da’esh.
Carrie – knowing it is a 10 year old boy’s birthday, and his mum is unable to buy gifts, organising a party in her own time at the weekend not forgetting to bring a large tube of jaffa cakes, as they are his favourite thing to eat… in fact they are the only thing he eats….
And then there are our volunteers. Heaps of them teaching English, playing football, raising funds, washing dishes, running reception, campaigning, befriending we would be lost without each and every one of them encouraged and supported, trained and guided by our wonderful volunteer co-ordinator Alice…
Across the country there are people like Ellie and Florence, Alice, Pippa and Carrie, Anna and Katharine – using their time and energy and talents to make a difference – a massive difference.
So the money you raise tonight keeps that show on the road and I promise you it is money well spent. In September last year a girl we have worked with for many years whose mother was dress designer before she left her country, went off to take up her place at Goldsmiths University, another young woman this year will graduate as a lawyer.
At RAY we know the talent that is out there and we refuse to let it go to waste. Tonight you have helped us to keep on nurturing that talent and what is just as important – no maybe more so… by being here tonight and being part of this huge celebration of talent you are saying that you see the refugee not as other but as one of us. York has committed to taking a small number of Syrian families. Those of us from down south who have made our home in Yorkshire – know the Yorkshire welcome is not myth. The day after the photos of Aykan Kurdi appeared in the press my phone did not stop ringing, I had so many messages on Facebook I thought I must be accidently logged in to one of my daughters’ accounts. Faith groups the university and individuals wanted to know what they could do and how they could help. People I hardly knew where assuring me they had a spare room if we needed to use it. There were offers to raise money and write letters. The university here has offered generous bursaries and supported ventures like tonight.
Looking at those unbearable photos of the devastation in Syria we know we have to offer a safe haven to those who have fled unimaginable horrors – in the way we would hope others would offer us a small corner of the globe where we could live with our families, were we to have to flee for our lives. Tonight with style and pride and passion, with courage and joy and a bucket load of talent, those of you in this hall have stood up to say York, this city, this county, the north welcomes refugees and celebrates global talent which enriches all our lives. If you would like to bid on the silent auction pieces or if you would like to see if you have won one of the wonderful raffle prizes please stay after the break.
But for now on behalf of everyone RAY supports I thank you….