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A new exhibition, A Great British Welcome, in Manchester showcases connection, community and the warmth of Manchester towards refugees

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A new exhibition, A Great British Welcome, in Manchester showcases connection, community and the warmth of Manchester towards refugees

7 June 2024
women pose around a table tennis table outside

If you are out and about in Manchester this June, head to Market Street, where a powerful outdoor exhibition, A Great British Welcome, is showing. The exhibition tells the stories of individuals, organisations and communities across the UK, including in Manchester, that are welcoming people who have been forced to flee.

The exhibition, produced by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Panos Pictures, features striking portraits by the award-winning photographer Andrew Testa. Visitors will be taken on an inspiring journey of community and connection, witnessing how refugees, asylum-seekers and host communities thrive together. 

Manchester’s award-winning arts and social justice organisation, Community Arts North West (CAN), is featured in the exhibition and the accompanying online stories. The organisation welcomes refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants into its broad range of arts and creative programmes for all ages, offering connection, belonging, and creativity.

The CAN section of the exhibition shares the story of Mahboobeh Rajabi, originally from Iran. Mahboobeh found her place in Manchester when CAN welcomed and supported her. Mahboobeh rebuilt her creative career in the UK first through volunteering at CAN, after which she freelanced with them, becoming a Creative Producer with the organisation. She has since forged a successful career, and her projects include work with Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum, Commonword, HOME, and the University of Manchester.

Mahboobeh, who is photographed for the series with six of her CAN colleagues who have played a pivotal role in her journey, says, “Manchester, and the warm welcome of the communities and its people, makes me proud to call Manchester my second 'hometown' now."

CAN’s Co-founder and Interim Creative Lead, Cilla Baynes MBE, says that creating these cross-cultural experiences and forging human connections have been key to the organisation’s success for decades. “The cultural, social, and creative contribution of refugees to Manchester life has been largely welcomed by its communities and influenced and enriched the city for the better. Many groups and individuals talk about how their creativity has helped them find a place in the UK and new beginnings.”

Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, Joanna Midgley, says, “We’re proud to host this exhibition – a reflection of the warmth of the City, and our collective vision for every person seeking sanctuary to feel part of a supportive community that understands and welcomes them.”  Manchester City Council unanimously passed a motion last year to become a Local Authority of Sanctuary and ison the way to becoming accredited later this year. Manchester libraries have been Libraries of Sanctuary since 2021.

In addition to the Manchester portraits, UNHCR’s A Great British Welcome exhibition portrays a number of communities throughout the UK which have welcomed refugees - ranging from ‘Refugees Rock’, a monthly bouldering session in Liverpool’s Climbing Hangar that brings refugees and local climbers together, to a tight-knit community on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, where resettled Syrian refugee Wafa and her two sons have become an integral part of local life.

Vicky Tennant, UNHCR’s Representative to the UK, says, “The role of cities in welcoming and supporting people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes is a unique one. Whether through adapting national and global policies and practices to their local situation, or through their networks of diverse and caring communities and organisations, their work is invaluable.”

You can get to know the island-wide initiatives and protagonists at the free outdoor exhibition, which will run from Tuesday 11 June to Friday 28 June, on Market Street. The exhibition is part of an ongoing series by UNHCR documenting people across the UK welcoming people forced to flee.  All stories, videos and a wider selection of photos are available on UNHCR’s website.


Tuesday 11 June to Friday 28 June


Market Street, Manchester, M1 1WN


For more information, contact: 

Notes for Editors

About Community Arts North West (CAN)

CAN link to website  was established in 1978 and is funded by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation and is a Manchester City Council Cultural Partnership funded organisation. The award-winning organisation works with diverse communities across Greater Manchester, developing unique, creative projects with people whose voices are not typically heard in the mainstream.


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. UNHCR delivers life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, helps to safeguard fundamental human rights, and develops solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. 

About Mahboobeh Rajabi 

Mahboobeh is an Artist, Creative Entrepreneur and Cultural Leader from Manchester with a track record of over 14 years of leading empowerment projects across Manchester, Greater Manchester and internationally. Mahboobeh’s work focuses on giving voice to hidden stories and her focus is on human rights, women's rights and people from forced migration backgrounds.