The Importance of Community: Reflections on a festival filled with hope

Ten very busy days. Over 100 brilliant events filled with colours, art, and shared ideas. Refugee Festival Scotland 2023 has come to a close. But how has my understanding of hope evolved and what is in store beyond the festival?  

By Olivia Sykes, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer

Hope was a fitting theme for a festival like this one. We are at a time in our world where there is an incredible amount of division. Ten days of fun and celebration is not going to completely counteract that, but I saw first hand how impactful Refugee Festival Scotland was for people in Glasgow and beyond, including me. 

The primary feedback I heard was that the festival provided people with a chance to slow down and connect with others they might not normally speak to. Stepping outside of our regular routines can be daunting and we don’t always know how to do it, even if we want to.

Our lives are filled with busy moments and not much headspace to think about the world beyond our immediate circles. We are rushing for the bus, trying to do our jobs, helping our families, making food in between this meeting and that. Many of us don’t have time to sit down and talk as much as we once did, and especially not with strangers. The festival gave us those opportunities. 

One of the most effective ways to combat division is very simple; become part of diverse, beautiful communities. It’s so easy to make assumptions without understanding who people really are. Fear of difference can get in the way of making connections, sometimes even with people right next door.

When was the last time you asked how your neighbour was doing? I can’t speak for everyone, but I have personally noticed a growing pattern of isolation in my own neighbourhood. If we don’t take the time to have conversations and meet newcomers, we lose out on the community networks which provide many of us with stability, support and hope. 

This festival made it apparent that we can find community in our busy world, we just need to make the time. I do not think this means that everyone will always get along. But we should be willing to learn, to leave our biases at the door, and have the capacity to forgive.

The hatred that spreads from newspapers into neighbourhoods is often a mask for fear, desperation, and a feeling of loss and uncertainty. When we have a greater sense of community, we can have a better sense of what we all need. We check in with each other more. Communities help us find the similarities amongst the differences, and they can even help us to grow beyond our imagination.

What I hope people take away from this year’s festival is not just the fun memories or the beautiful creations, which are all wonderful and should be appreciated. I hope that people continue to talk to each other on the street. That there are more gatherings and meals being shared.

Maybe next time you see someone new in your local area, say hello. Maybe these simple hellos can become connections. And maybe those connections will spread until we realize that we are all just people hoping to find a community.

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