The Unwritten Letters Project: exploring migration stories

It's an event three years in the making and has an unusual inspiration - a song written by The Proclaimers.

One of the stained glass windows at Alloa Ludgate Church & the Rev Carol Anne Parker performing
Alloa Ludgate Church & the Rev Carol Anne Parker performing

The Unwritten Letters Project will present a long weekend of art, music, poetry and talks looking at Scotland's migration stories past and present.

The project, launched by Rev Carol Anne Parker of Alloa Ludgate Parish Church and her late music partner, Rev Stephen Brown of the United Reformed Church, is taking place in Alloa on Thursday 22 - Sunday 25 June.

From Bathgate to Methil

Ms Parker explained that after her mother moved from Bathgate to Methil she was reminded of the chorus of 'Letter From America' by The Proclaimers, joking that her next stop would be Irvine. Appropriately this year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the song.

The minister began to think about the historical migration mentioned in the song and used her study leave allowance each year to do further research.

"In a world where winners so often write the history, what might the silenced in Sutherland or indeed Bathgate have said if only they'd been given opportunity?", she said.

"What stories were never told?

"With so many people moving and migrating around the world in these days, our question feels to be burning.

"What stories can be read between the red-topped lines, the reports of 'swarms on our streets', the commands to 'halt the asylum tide'."

Performers Professor James Hunter and guitarist Ayman Jarjour
Professor James Hunter and guitarist Ayman Jarjour are just some of the artists, musicians, academics and writers involved with The Unwritten Letters Project

The project comprises a long weekend drawing in storytellers, poets, musicians and artists including acclaimed Syrian classical guitarist Ayman Jarjour and Professor James Hunter, an expert on the Highland Clearances.

Local school children have taken part by imagining what they would write in a letter to a child refugee and there will also be a photography exhibition.

A former music teacher, Ms Parker realised that she could still use her musical skills in her new role after she became a minister in 2009 and says that it's now a "core aspect" of her work.

Reacting to famine in the Horn of Africa region, she formed the band Thursday's Child with fellow musician Rev Stephen Brown in 2011 and quickly raised over £3,000 for Save the Children, performing from Cardiff to Tiree in church halls, community centres and even a castle.

Refugee Crisis

David Bradwell, the Church of Scotland's Refugee Coordinator said:

"When I first spoke to Carol Anne about The Unwritten Letters Project, she reminded me about Scotland's own history of forced migration in the past.

"The connection between our past and the present situation for the tens of millions of people who experience war, human rights abuses, ecological disaster or abject poverty shows us that we have been here before.

"The refugee crisis is nothing new.

"Exploring these issues through music and poetry is important, as through art we can interpret and understand better some of the challenges and opportunities that forced migration creates.

"It helps us to see refugees not merely as statistics but as people, fellow members of the human family, with the same dignity as everybody else."

For more details please go to The Unwritten Letters Project Facebook page or contact Carol Anne Parker by emailing cparker@churchofscotland.org.uk All events will take place at Alloa Ludgate Church and are free to attend, although donations will go to Save the Children.

Ms Parker's latest album Skin Over bone will be released to coincide with the Unwritten Letters Project.

All proceeds will go to Save the Children. http://howeverfar.com/shop/ (check link)

Programme of events:

  • Thursday 22 June, 7.30pm 'Where I eat my bread' with Brian MacLeod & Classical Guitarist Ayman Jarjour
  • Friday 23 June, 7.30pm 'We were migrants once' with Professor James Hunter & songs by Carol Anne Parker (formerly of "Thursday's Child")
  • Saturday 24 June, 7.30pm 'Bits of twig' with Rosa Idziak MacPherson & the UL Team
  • Thursday - Saturday, 10am-1pm Exhibitions by Ian Collins ('Transient Landscapes'), Rhoda Meek ('A' Tilleadhh/Returning') & letters written by local children
  • Sunday 25 June, 10.30am Worship 'All of us belong'