Refugia: co-designing a creative and equitable engagement programme for conservation science with refugee and asylum seekers.
Conservation and caring for wildlife and our planet are often seen as a privilege, but despite not having stable housing and food access, asylum seekers and refugees have a deep respect for nature and an interest in how they can protect it. That's where Refugia comes in.
Refugia is a collaboration between ZSL and the New Art Studio, a therapeutic arts group for asylum seekers and refugees, which is funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Over six months, we created a space for therapeutic art practice alongside wildlife conservation.
The programme focused on topics relevant to both the lived experiences and cultures of asylum seekers and refugees and wildlife conservation; hence the name ‘Refugia’, meaning ‘areas in which a population of living things can survive through a period of unfavourable conditions.’
With access to art materials, translators and London Zoo, participants shared insights on topics including urban wildlife, wildlife and people, life in water, forests and animal migration. The programme enabled a safe and inclusive environment for mutual learning, expression, discussion and understanding.
By making art together, participants connected in profound ways, immersed in the therapeutic benefits of nature and art. A co-produced exhibition was hosted to share artwork and reflections, allowing the wider public to engage with the role of zoos in conservation and the lived experiences of migrant artists.
Five sessions were held monthly between September 2022 and January 2023, exploring five conservation topics. As sessions progressed, the New Art Studio members shared their work and practices with ZSL participants; for example, by teaching printmaking during a session on forests. In this way the engagement became a mutual exchange.