University of Derby academic wins national award for telling the story of asylum seekers in poignant theatrical piece

A theatrical telling of the stories of young asylum seekers has earned a University of Derby academic, Ava Hunt a prestigious national award.

Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts and Programme Leader for MA Applied Theatre & Education, Ava has won the Children and Young People Arts and Culture Award 2020 for her project Journeys of Destiny  and its companion piece Destinies, work focused on the experiences of asylum seekers, both in Australia and here in Derbyshire.

Journeys of Destiny, based on the experiences of Saad Al Kassab whose family fled Syria in 2011 and were offered sanctuary in Melbourne Australia in 2013, was developed with Arts Council England and Foundation Derbyshire and was performed by a mixture of professional actors and Year Six children.

The piece toured schools throughout the East Midlands, reaching an audience of over 2,000 people, aiming to highlight the experience of young refugees and build an understanding of the emotional resilience required to adapt, accept change and, ultimately, succeed in life.

The accompanying Destinies, the companion project working with Derby Theatre, Derbyshire Virtual School, Sinfonia Viva, Orchestras Live and the University of Derby, focuses on the experiences of 12 young asylum seekers in Derbyshire, who co-created and performed in the piece.

Ava said:
"I'm absolutely thrilled to win this award. The other projects that were shortlisted were all really strong, so I sat with my hand over my face waiting for the winner to be announced. This award is the result of the hard work of so many artists, young people, students, and our partners.  The last year has been really difficult but Destinies has kept going. We're all waiting to be able to get into the theatre again, but what we have achieved is a sense of community. We are a family – it’s what theatre does at its best."

Partners for this project include Derbyshire County Council’s Virtual School, which aims to enhance the life experience of children and young people in care, the Sinfonia Viva Orchestra and Orchestras Live.

Due to the pandemic, Destinies is yet to debut as a live performance but was streamed to an audience for the first time in October at the Care about Care Conference. It gave young people with care experience the opportunity to celebrate, inspire others and share meaningful conversation about their experience in the pandemic.

Keith McLay (Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Education at the University of Derby) said:
“The University is thrilled at Ava’s success in winning the Children and Young People Arts & Culture Award for her projects. It is a genuine testament to Ava’s vision to continue to engage young people and artists in contemporary issues and debates as a theatre community in these constrained times for the arts.”