Multicultural walk to Hadrian's Wall

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By Colin Adsley
17th August 2021

A party of refugees and asylum seekers experienced the joy of the Northumberland countryside recently thanks to a new initiative.

The group, all housed in Newcastle, were given the opportunity to join a specially organised trip to experience the beauty of Northumberland’s countryside in a visit to Hadrian’s Wall. This pioneering initiative was the idea of Finnish artist Dr Henna Asikainen and was backed by Newcastle University and CPRE, the countryside charity.

In total, 20 walkers, led by CPRE’s Jeff Wild, a National Park guide, joined Henna for a five-mile circular around the Crag Lough section of the Roman Wall having been bussed to the Sill by the university. The ancient wall, which celebrates its 1,900th birthday next year, was famously a meeting point for many different nationalities and cultures during its construction and occupation. So there was something of a throwback to the past as a mix of visitors including asylum seekers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Rwanda, Russia, Ukraine, and the Ivory Coast cast eyes on the Unesco World Heritage site for the first time.

Independent artist, Henna, has a track record of organising participatory walks including bringing refugees to National Trust properties and introducing them to different parts of the English countryside. Henna’s current work ‘Between Two Shores’ brings together different themes of migration, climate change and human rights, with her work documented here: www.hennaasikainen.com.

Henna said: “When asylum seekers arrive in their new country, this is often just the start of their journey. They want to adapt to their new life and become part of their new home, but that can often be very difficult when language and culture can leave them isolated. With so few resources at their disposal they are often unable to travel beyond their immediate surroundings. The trip to Hadrian’s Wall was meant to give them an experience of nature again, to positively contribute to good mental health, and to generate a sense of community, understanding, connection, and goodwill – and I think it did exactly that.”

In light of the trip’s overwhelming success as an event, more are now being planned, with Henna working in collaboration with Newcastle University, the National Park, and CPRE.

Colin Adsley, chair of the Northumberland branch of CPRE, (formerly the Campaign to Protect Rural England), said: “Since I first became associated with CPRE, I think this has been one of the single most important events the Northumberland branch has been part of. CPRE’s founding purpose was to promote a thriving and beautiful countryside enjoyed and valued by all and this trip goes to the heart of what modern CPRE is all about. Yes, we want to protect and preserve our priceless countryside but we also want it to be open for all to enjoy and the feedback from this event – both from the asylum seekers, organisers, and those who simply came along for the walk – has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Henna added: “We hope this is just the start for many of our participants who are interested in exploring access to the countryside but we need to understand the barriers that face certain groups, including refugees. This walk today showed us how many newcomers to Newcastle often cannot access the countryside for many different reasons, including the cost of getting out of the city, and general lack of knowledge about where to go and how to get there. With this event, they enjoyed a lovely walk, shared lunch, shared stories, and made new connections.”

Plans are now being worked on to make the organised events a regular occurrence in the wake of the success of the inaugural walk. Iraqi asylum seeker Zack Jabbar, who speaks five languages and acted as interpreter for the trip, said: “It was a fantastic day from start to finish and it was great to see so many smiling faces. The Northumberland countryside is beautiful and Hadrian’s Wall is famous across the world, so it was great for us to have the opportunity to visit it. It brought a lot of people closer together, friendships were made and we got to see some wonderful English scenery.”