Where There Is Light with ArtReach’s Executive Artistic Producer Maddie Smart


Taking place in Coventry Cathedral Ruins from 26 February – 5 March, Where There Is Light is an immersive light and sound experience sharing the voices and stories of sanctuary-seeking communities from across the UK.

Created by arts collectives Squidsoup and ArtReach, the installation asks questions about where we find light in ourselves, in others and in the world around us, drawing on a series of interviews with sanctuary seekers recorded during the 2020 lockdowns.

As we begin to rebuild and reconnect in the aftermath of the pandemic, Where There Is Light invites us to reflect on how hope can be found even in the darkest of times. ArtReach’s Executive Artistic Producer Maddie Smart told us more about how the project came together.

The starting point for Where There Is Light was a series of workshops we undertook in 2020 with sanctuary-seekers in Leicester, Coventry, Halton and Hull. ArtReach is based in Leicester, so in our home city we worked with Our Roots, which is a group that we’ve done lots of activity with in the past, and is made up of people from all around the world – it has members from India, Iran and Zimbabwe to name a few.

Then in each of the tour locations, we worked with partner organisations to put together groups and find local facilitators who were already engaging with communities in their areas. These facilitators all worked with a community outreach specialist called Sameena Khan, who helped them with designing the workshops and creating spaces where people felt safe to share what they wanted to share.

What was great is that across all of the groups, we got to know a really broad range of people with very different experiences. All of the participants we worked with on this project were adults, but they were all at different points in their sanctuary-seeking journeys: some were very newly arrived to the UK and others have been here for many years and have left to remain.

Each group approached the project in a slightly different way, but the participants were never directly asked to share their experiences. We’d always talk about universal themes and topics and then open the floor for people to respond and share as much or as little as they wanted to. In particular, we were looking at what brings people light, so the big question we started with was, “What is light in your life?”

The responses were really varied: some people talked about their families or aspects of their home cultures and how they’d brought those to the UK, while others talked about faith and religion. As people began to share, we’d pick up on that and build on it with questions about why those things bring them hope, and what advice they might give to someone who wanted to engage with their way of seeing the world.

Perhaps the thing that came across most strongly was the resilience and positivity of everyone we spoke to, particularly given the context we were working within. All of this was happening in the middle of lockdown, so we ran most of the sessions remotely and we weren’t able to meet with people for quite a long time.

So it was really heartening to hear that people were still holding onto that positivity despite the fact that we were in this strange situation where we couldn’t connect with each other in the same way we might have done before. I think for a lot of the participants, being part of this project actually became an important way of reaching out to people and finding connection in isolation.

The interviews were recorded by a sound artist called Dimple Patel, who selected snippets from each of the participants and pieced them together thematically to give a broad perspective on the messages coming through. That was then sent to Music Works who wove the recordings together with music by Lee Chaos and Gregory Bayliss to great the soundscape that you’ll hear as you walk around the installation.

The voices of those sanctuary seekers are really at the heart of the whole piece: the music responded to their words, and in turn, the lighting responds to the music. What you’ll find when you listen to the soundscape is that there’s no real start, middle or end – it’s a lot of collections of stories and reflections that audiences can experience in different ways.

Where There Is Light will be open in Coventry Cathedral Ruins from Saturday 26 Feburary until Saturday 5 March. The installation is free to visit, and you can drop in any time from 4-9pm.


Photo at Timber Festival 2021

Photo at Timber Festival 2021

Photo by Tom Arran Freedom Festival 2021

Photo by Tom Arran Freedom Festival 2021