A few weeks ago London’s City Hall played host to the first ever London Peace Talks, which brought together a group of inspiring speakers from across different sectors to share their own experiences in fighting for peace. Pertinent though they were then, the notion that ‘peace’ is something that needs to be discussed collectively, something deserving of a large audience at a political venue, seems even more in the aftermath of the US election.
The theme of the evening was ‘Building Bridges’- something that again seems more relevant now- and was addressed by seven speakers from very different background and whose work encourages peace in very different ways. The fashion industry- and CSF in particular- was represented by Helen Storey’s Dress 4 Our Time, which made its entrance modeled by Louise, who descended the ramp that circumnavigates City Hall’s nine stories mid way through the talk.
The talks themselves touched on many of the same issues as the dress, particularly displacement and mass migration of refugees. Lliana, a radio DJ and broadcaster who played host for the evening, spoke of her own project, Help Refugees, which has gone on to become the biggest provider of aid to Calais and Dunkirk, providing vital humanitarian aid and assistance to tens of thousands of refugees everyday. Raed Al Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, spoke about his experience in this volunteer organisation which has so far saved over 62,000 lives from the destruction of air-strikes in rebel-held areas of Syria. Rehana Faisal and Peter Adams, an unlikely duo of community activists and peacemakers from Luton gave a powerful account of how the power of kindness and friendship is being used to combat the rise of acts of hatred and abuse that are perpetrated by such groups as Britain First. Their message of solidarity, friendship and, above all, putting aside your differences- be they religious, as in the case of Rehana and Peter, ethnic, sexual… – comes as an important reminder during this time of political turbulence and anxieties about the rise of race fuelled hatred as the result of new president elect. Their solution is simple: be nice to each other; we don’t have to be the same to live peacefully- and happily- together.
Helen explains that one of the central aims behind the Dress is to remind its audience of the human side of the refugee crisis, creating an unbreakable bond to this humanity and demonstrating the importance of nurturing and protecting all people. It seems that what the London Peace Talks achieved so powerfully was to reinstate the sense of humanity behind the actions. Hearing directly from LLiana, who had been to Calais to build shelters for refugees, or Raed, a former shopkeeper who now runs the Syrian Civil Defence- albeit via video, as his visa application was denied- was a powerful reminder that, as well as the normal people and lives behind the refugee crisis, there are normal people who are helping. There can be a tendency for us to feel powerless to help, however the speakers proved that there is no action too small, and that even the most local actions can have a huge impact.
The message of hope, solidarity and, above all, power that the talks put across should serve as an inspiring reminder of human resilience.
You can watch the Peace Talks in full here.