Large crowds welcome Little Amal as giant refugee puppet visits Lewisham

Little Amal in Deptford Pic: Sophie Donne

By Christian Wilson, Sophie Donne and Hadia Bakkar

Large crowds greeted the giant puppet known as Little Amal at Deptford Broadway this morning, as the symbolic refugee girl continued her tour of the UK. Litt

Amal, a 3.5m tall puppet built to represent the plight and journey of refugees, arrived in Folkestone on Tuesday. She had previously travelled across Europe, starting in Turkey and visiting towns and cities in Greece, Italy, Germany and France in an 8,000 kilometre journey. 

Amal received a warm reception from Lewisham people, many carrying signs and shouting their support. The greetings got louder as she made her way down Deptford High Street, through the market and towards Deptford Lounge. 

Over a thousand people, a large number being local school children, had gathered in the square to see Amal, with Deptford Lounge bearing a large sign welcoming Amal and highlighting the borough’s role as a Borough of Sanctuary. 

Leanne Bateford, a local resident in the crowd, said that she felt lucky that the event happened right next door, especially since Amal is only stopping in a few places in London. Her husband, Andrew, said: “It made me feel quite emotional as well, being a dad to a little girl, and the journey that the puppet has gone on.” 

He also said the event was a great way to bring the Deptford community back together, especially after Covid-19 restrictions last year. 

Others also appreciated the significance of the event. Susannah Tresilian, a theatre director, 42, who from Finsbury Park, in north London for the event, said:  “It was really important for me that my little girl witnessed this and was a part of this…beautiful, deeply meaningful arrival of this girl that we’ve been watching through Instagram.” 

And Aisha Malik-Smith, a 21-year-old trade union organiser from Deptford, said the event was “for people from different backgrounds seeing that they belong in Lewisham and that they’re welcome.”

Video by Sophie Donne

Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan told Eastlondonlines: “I feel like the event’s gone very well, we’ve responded really positively to Amal.

“We’re really proud to be the first Borough of Sanctuary for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in the country… by the end of next month we’ll have resettled 46 families from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

He highlighted his commitment ”to get to a hundred families…and also a hundred unaccompanied children migrants,” to the borough.

Amaya Jeyarajah Dent of Good Chance, the event organisers, said that the day had been “amazing”, describing it as how they expected a Lewisham welcome would be: “very warm and quite eccentric”. 

“The vibe has been warm and vibrant and energetic. We’re not even halfway through yet so I can’t say whether it’s been a success or not but…it’s been amazing”.  

Pic: Sophie Donne

Pic: Chris Wilson

Amal and the accompanying art festival were created by Handspring Puppet Company –  which was responsible for the famous horse figures in the National Theatre’s celebrated dramatisation of Michael Morpugo’s book War Horse – and Palestanian artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi. Lewisham Council, Create Without Borders, Deptford X, The Albany, and the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network are also local sponsors of the event.

But Little Amal has not been welcomed everywhere. There have been a few objections and protests on previous parts of the puppet’s journey. 

Executive Producer for The Walk Kevin Fitzmaurice, said, however, that these small protests have only happened during one or two days on her 11 week journey. 

“I mean that’s part of the truth of the story, that not everybody is welcoming,” he said. 

But The Walk has been a success especially in the UK. He said: “It’s partly about showing support for refugees… but some of it is just to join in the celebration, and the joy, and hopefully the positivity that comes with her.” 

He hoped The Walk has made refugee communities that Amal represents feel “at least a bit” more comfortable and safe.  “If that’s touched anyone along the way, then it’s got to have been worth it.” 

Tonight, Amal continues her journey through London visiting Royal Docks in Newham. There, she will be welcomed to the theatre show ‘ARRIVAL’, a show created with the help of the local community and designed to celebrate the past, present and future of Royal Docks. Her next event takes place tomorrow, Saturday, when she arrives at St. Paul’s Cathedral at around 10am. 

Amal will continue her journey through the UK until she reaches Manchester next month. Stops on the way include Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and Barnsley.

Dent later added: “I think keep your eyes peeled for Amal. We’ve got our finale on the 3rd of November in Manchester but it won’t be the last time you see her over the coming years.”

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