It was late 2018 when I was with the arriving group of Curious Monkey ( Theatre of Sanctuary) in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. We used to do a lot of things like- visiting the theatre, acting, reading books, sing, conversing, watching real theatre plays etc and of course nice food. I was fairly new to Newcastle and Curious monkey was one of the groups I find my friends and welcoming environment being an asylum seeker.
At the beginning of 2019, Curious monkey asked us if we want to do something as there are some funds available for us and if we have any idea to present. We have to do a presentation to the arriving group and there was elected arriving group judges who can then decide whose idea gets the green signal.. I then presented my presentation with PowerPoint & it got approved straight away. Everyone says it’s a great idea. Let’s see what is all about – ” Happiness project” by Curious Monkey.
What is Happiness Project?
The Happiness Project came from conversations with people who are involved with a Curious Monkey project, Arriving, who seek sanctuary in Newcastle/Gateshead. Through the Arriving project, an incredible group of people from all over the world living in the North East, come together 3 times a month for workshops, theatre trips and to eat together. Everyone is very different and there is a wealth of skills and interests. People in the group face many everyday challenges – language barriers, long complicated asylum processes, housing, poverty, physical and mental health issues – dealing with all this can take up a lot of time and headspace.
“Many people find it hard to be happy.” said Belmira, a smiling, bubbly Angolan woman “I know a way to make people in my community happy.” She had a brilliant idea which she shared with everyone.
The discussion opened up to others in the group and plenty more brilliant ideas began to flow – from children’s silent theatre projects to metamorphic massage courses. The Happiness Project was born: happiness and community cohesion for people seeking sanctuary in Newcastle/Gateshead and others living in the same communities. Now through the Co-Creating Change commission it is a reality.
Amy Golding, the Artistic Director of Curious Monkey says-
It is so easy for people to become defined by their asylum status that the person they were back home (and still are) with all their skills, careers, families and friends can be overlooked – or unknown to people here. People become labelled ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’.
What is Happiness from the posh Bottle( H.P.B)
The Idea Pitching:
The idea of HPB came to my mind last year at the art council conference in Sage Gateshead. I have seen how there is a “Posh club” established in London and serving the elderly community. It is one of my dreams to make something like this happen in Newcastle. I actively take part in Curious Monkey’s Arriving project because I like art and culture. My involvement with D6 culture and transit as a community engagement volunteer always helps me to explore the wide range of artists and cultural things along with Curious Monkey. When the idea of the Happiness project came up, we were told to pitch ideas and I have taken that opportunity to express my thoughts and desires to be there for my community.
Why it is important for me and everyone in the community:
I strongly believe at one point in our life we will be old. I have seen during my asylum life in the UK that in less cases we nowadays think about our elderly community. They cared about us in their whole lives. Can’t we do something for them to entertain them? Can’t we make them laugh and give them some happy moments? They fought for us , they did everything to be there for us, they passed us the moral and ethical British values with which we can not think about them. They are the torch bearer of modern British art and culture.
I feel bad when I see they have to contribute for a TV license . I feel bad when I see them looking lonely in oldage homes. Do we not have some community responsibility? We need to think this now: if we do not look after them well, our turn will come in the future. They deserve the best. Through my little project, I am aiming to invite at least 25 of those isolated elderly people to join us in the Happiness project. They will be passing us some messages for future generations and they will possibly be telling us their happy moments and blessings.
The Core brief of the Event:
“ The core idea of the HPB is we will invite them, we will ensure their travel, we will have a night with them with a Posh dinner, several stage performances, comedy, DJ, raffle draw (Themed Raffle Draw- e.g- winners will get a bottle of messages, a bottle of chocolate etc). Then at the end of the programme, we will ask them to pass on a message for us in writing. We will collect them and put them in the Posh Bottles then and throw them in the SEA”. Maybe after 50 years or so someone will find it and realise what the elderly generations wanted from the future and create a link”. I would ask our guests to write what they want from us in the future, is it something they could not tell us, is there something they wanted to share with us which no one knows etc.””
To plan such a big event like this I had to have several meetings and plans.
This great initiative is just the beginning of my dream to be there for my communitys elderly people where the connection between generations will be built and messages will be passed which is something we are losing nowadays.
Overall View of the project-
- Projected Time for the Event – First week of August ( 5th of August, 2020) but for covid, we could not do this time.
- The estimated number of people will be attending the programme- 40
- The event will Include- We will ensure their travel of every elderly person who will be attending the Event,
- We will have a night with them with a Posh dinner, several stage performances, comedy, DJ dance and Salsa, raffle draw (Themed Raffle Draw- e.g- winners will get a bottle of messages, a bottle of chocolate etc)
- And Take them back to their house.
The day of my dream: Venue – Gosforth CIVIC THEATRE. The Happiness In the Posh Bottle has happened on the 24th of August, 2021. We made it happen. Thanks to Curious Monkey, Amy Golding, Joe, Joana, Gosforth Civic Theatre, Rob Huggins- Chief Executive of Gosforth Theatre, Gosforth Theatre Chef, My lovely loving elderlies who came into this event, All the staff and our gorgeous Volunteers of that day.
We started at 5.30 pm. Our guest started arriving at 5.10 pm. We welcomed them with some basic covid safety check-in instructions. We started around 5.40 pm.
Event day schedule: 5:30pm Guests Arrive
6pm Event begins
6:15pm Performance 1
6:30pm Main course
6:45pm Performance 2
7pm Clear tables
7:30pm Performance 3
7:45pm End / write bottle advice
8pm Guests Leave
So we have started by following this-
- Hello, from our gorgeous Joana – She was the compere for the night.
- Welcome to Happiness in the Posh Bottle.
- We have 3 courses and between each course, we will have some entertainment. – songs, theatre, and drag!
- House keeping (toilets, fire exits, Covid safety – please wear masks as you move around but don’t need to in your seats, please ask staff or our volunteers if you need anything. Drinks – there is soft drinks on your table but if you want alcohol you can get it from the bar (tell them how – is it table service or not?)
- This event is part of Curious Monkey’s Happiness Project, a project designed for people who have lived the experience of being a refugee or asylum seeker to run their own projects to bring people in the community together and spread happiness. Curious Monkey runs a creative group – the Arriving group for people from all over the world who have now made Tyneside their home, they are all here are seeking sanctuary from war or persecution. This event was the idea of one of the group members Md who has organised it all with the support of Curious Monkey and other volunteers from the group. Md’s going to tell you a bit about why he wanted to put this event on.
- 2. Welcome by Md.
- Starter Served- You’re starter will be served, pakoras made by MD – please enjoy.
- Intro to Jane Wade: Musician and actor – The brilliant Jane Wade – She started out in a punk band, is an amazing musician, an acting legend in the northeast, she has appeared in many theatres shows across the North East and beyond including Curious Monkey’s first-ever production Bunker Blues. she’s got a big voice! She’s here to share some songs with you. Whilst our guests finish their starter they had enjoyed this act as well.
- Main course- For the main course there’s chicken or a vegetarian option prepared by Dyonne, the brilliant chef here at GCT. (how do they let us know what they want – has this already happened?) Enjoy your dinner.
- Next Artist: Jane Gower – an artist and performer who makes contemporary, playful and participatory performances that encourage audiences to reflect on and consider issues directly relevant to their lives. Tonight she performs “Stuck in The Glass Slipper” – a short cabaret theatre show about ageing and conforming.
- Raffle/ Dessert: We had a wonderful raffle gift for 10 guests. It was free. The prize includes Gosforth theatre programme ticket ( Thanks to Rob Huggins for the donations), Pillow, Sandwich maker, Beauty box, Toilet essentials, Plant, Love to shop voucher( Curious monkey). Everyone really enjoyed it.
- Dessert time – cakes made by Belmira and Faez. They are our lovely curious monkey arriving group members and volunteers.
- Bonnie and Bonnettes: Bonnie and The Bonnettes – described as foot-stomping, pant-wetting, glitter throwing drag performances! They aim to create pockets of joy in the places they visit, the people they work with, and the audiences they meet.
- Hand over to MD: Thanks for coming and Goodbye. Go well. Tonight’s event is free but if you wish to donate to Curious Monkey you can on your way out, all the money will go into the continuation of the Arriving group activity.
- Watch the Vlog made by MD about the Happiness in the Posh Bottle event. 👇🏽👇🏽❤️😊
The end was very nostalgic. I have waited for this project for the last 2 years. It was my dream project. Got some elderlies telling me MD can you not host this kind of event in Benwell in Newcastle where we live as well. One of the elderly was telling me- “lots of prayers for you MD. No one invited us since covid. I have enjoyed it a lot today.. wish this kind of event happens a lot in the community, I pray you to finish your law degree smoothly”.
What else do I need? The blessings and this feedbacks are more than anything precious in my life. These are my earnings. I will leave my money, wealth and everything behind but these memories will stay forever in the community and if anything happens with me (in case I am being deported by the home office) at least some of my lovely people will remember me one day again. Please keep me on your blessings list and share this with others with the hope I can organise another event like this again. Md❤️😊🙏🏽