Something special takes place once a week at Manchester Art Gallery; the Lion’s Den, a children’s gallery co-designed with Sure Start workers, is host to a stay and play session dedicated to refugee parents and their children. A welcoming, inspiring yet calm environment, with plenty of opportunity for interactive, creative play and reading stories, which a volunteer worker described as ‘a joyous, safe place where children can come together and play’ 

The sessions began in September 2022 after the art gallery acquired funding from The Ogelsby Trust. In partnership with Martenscroft Sure Start Centre, the facilitators promoted the group to the city’s refugee parents and it has gathered momentum to include families from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq. Playworkers, staff and volunteers are on hand to offer support and advice to parents, signposting them to appropriate services. Read Manchester collaborates with the group providing books, resources, as well as help with the reading corner and story time. Each session culminates with a communal meal where everyone, including staff and volunteers, enjoys a shared lunch together. 

Refugee families face many challenges rebuilding their lives in unfamiliar circumstances and adapting to a new culture; displacement, exposure to trauma and the process of seeking asylum can leave children feeling vulnerable and isolated. These issues and their impacts have been thoughtfully considered by the group’s organisers enabling them to provide a safe, happy space for families to socialise, integrate and build confidence.  

There is a recognition of the difficulty of language development for children of refugee parents; teaching them to read a language that is often unfamiliar, and the importance of continuing to speak the mother tongue whilst learning English. Dual language and wordless picture books feature in the session building language and communication skills. Read Manchester help with parents’ confidence in their abilities to support children’s literacy by implementing the Start for Life Campaign which encourages parents to chat, play and read more with their children, preparing them with the skills required for starting school. 

Families of the World is a wonderful space for children to learn through play, exploration and stories; supporting, connecting and empowering parents finding their feet in new surroundings. We look forward to the group continuing to provide the many benefits offered for its attendees. 

For information on Refugee Week 2023, please visit