Online exhibition brings refugees' stories to life

Published: 11 June 2020 at 23:30

The SS Habana

ARU’s Havens East project sheds light on children who fled to East Anglia in 1937

The stories of Basque children who came to East Anglia as refugees 83 years ago are being relived through an online exhibition, which will be launched on Friday, 12 June ahead of Refugee Week.

The Havens East project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has been following the lives of some of the 4,000 children who left their region in civil war-torn northern Spain in 1937. Almost 100 of these children sought sanctuary in East Anglia, assisted by dedicated volunteers.

The project, led by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), has involved two teams of citizen researchers who have been researching the little-known stories of the Basque child refugees, as well as the locals who helped them settle in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

While the lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that a small number of the project’s plans have been delayed, including the recreation of a football match between Basque Boys and Great Yarmouth Boys on Boxing Day 1937, a new project website will be launched on Friday, 12 June to showcase the stories uncovered.

In addition, a digital project called The Day of Welcome, a partnership between the research team and Norfolk Schools of Sanctuary and also taking place on 12 June, will see schools take part in a day of solidarity and remote learning, designed to support teachers and families during Refugee Week (15-21 June).

The learning activities for the day have drawn on the Havens East project research, and the Havens East online exhibition will feature as a “virtual school trip”.

Dr Jeannette Baxter of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), who is leading the project, said:

“We are very grateful to all project participants who have helped us to share this incredible piece of heritage in the best way we could under the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in. 

“In the future, we plan to deliver our creative workshops physically in schools, and of course we will not forget that football match!”


Jake Rose-Brown, who is leading The Day of Welcome, said:

“The story of these Basque children is a little-known and enthralling aspect of our island’s rich history as a place of sanctuary. 

“A Day of Welcome invites young people to learn more about them and other refugees, both past and present, who have come to the UK seeking safety, and to build a culture of welcome for everyone in our schools and in our communities.”


Picture of the SS Habana used with kind permission of University of Southampton Special Collections. MS404 A4164/7/1.