The power to make a difference

Tamzin Aitken and Libby Papakyriacou both work behind the scenes at London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). Acting independently, they have organised a benefit concert on 15 January in aid of the Refugee Council at Royal Festival Hall, with Edward Gardner conducting. Here they explain where the idea came from, and how they went about bringing it to life. 

In early 2017, we were talking together after a concert. The conversation turned to the British government’s half-hearted response to the refugee crisis and the Trump travel ban which would only serve to worsen the situation further. Like many people, we felt disempowered to affect change in any meaningful way in the political landscape. We personally wanted to contribute more than just concern to the growing humanitarian crisis of displaced and refugee people across the world.

Tentatively, we came up with the idea of staging a concert. It felt risky, not just financially, but also in terms of how we would fit the workload around our very busy day jobs. However, the more we discussed it, the more we realised that we did have the professional expertise to do this and, with a fair wind, could raise a substantial amount of money for a charity that works directly with refugees.

Edward Gardner visiting the Refugee Council in Croydon © Simon Jay Price
Edward Gardner visiting the Refugee Council in Croydon © Simon Jay Price

There are a huge number of charities that do wonderful work with refugees. After looking at a few organisations, both at the work they did and the financial resources at their disposal, we felt we wanted to partner with a smaller charity, where our contribution would make a tangible difference.

The Refugee Council and specifically their Children’s Services felt like an ideal fit. All unaccompanied minors arriving in the UK are referred to the Refugee Council, who provide a range of support: legal, educational, psychological and pastoral. The charity receives a government contribution to support their reception centre at Dover and to provide a specialised service for vulnerable young people who are in the UK asylum system.

In addition to their country-wide services, they also run a wide-ranging youth development programme in London. Their limited resources mean that at present this is a programme they are only able to deliver in the capital, even though young refugees are located all around the UK.

In recent months we had the opportunity to participate in a regular music workshop that the charity delivers in partnership with Play for Progress. We were overwhelmed by the warmth and positivity of the refugees we met, and by the palpable difference the programme was making in their lives. We are hopeful the funds raised by the concert may enable the charity to expand this youth development programme to other parts of the country.

Our first step was to sit down with the Refugee Council’s CEO and fundraising team to make sure that our proposal suited them. Not least, because in order to secure certain elements of the event we would need to have an initial financial outlay. We presented a worst-case scenario of costs, some of which we hoped to offset with in-kind and financial contributions. Thankfully, we have been able to reduce our budgeted spend by over 50% due to the generosity of those we’ve approached. At time of writing we are a few days away from the concert and have already made a 350% return on investment through ticket sales.

Play for Progress participant © Simon Jay Price
Play for Progress participant © Simon Jay Price

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our professional network, not least our soloists, conductor, players and choir, who are all donating their time and talents. What has become really apparent throughout this process is that the feeling of powerlessness is widespread. The people we approached had been looking for a way to contribute and this concert gave them an avenue to use their professional ability or resources to do so.

There has been a huge learning curve for both of us as we have worked together on this project. While our focus has been predominantly on our individual areas of expertise, we have both delved into areas that were previously unfamiliar to us. This is a hugely satisfying and unexpected by-product of our endeavour; we both feel we have developed a more nuanced understanding of each others’ day-to-day work pressures.

Further, while we’ve enjoyed the advice and support of our colleagues, the responsibility and the workload has sat entirely with the two of us. This has been both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, and it’s given us a new found appreciation for the well-oiled machine that is the LPO.

The fact that we have been able to facilitate such a substantial contribution to the Refugee Council’s invaluable work makes that experience of exposure feel entirely worth it. We came into this with the aim of raising money on the charity’s behalf. What we had underestimated was the opportunity the evening would provide for the charity to talk about the extraordinary work they do, both to their loyal supporters and to an audience who may have been previously unaware of this work.

It has been an entirely rewarding if exhausting commitment and, once we’ve recovered from this one, we’re keen to do it again. We hope to see as many of you at the concert as possible.


Refugee Council’s Children’s Services:

Tamzin Aitken and Libby Papakyriacou both work for the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the concerts and marketing teams respectively. On Monday 15 January 2018, they are staging a Gala Fundraising Concert in aid of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Services at Royal Festival Hall. Edward Gardner conducts a programme of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor and Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with soloists Hilary Hahn, Sophie Bevan, Alice Coote, Toby Spence and Brindley Sherratt, alongside Members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Friends, and the London Philharmonic Choir and Friends. Children’s author Judith Kerr will read an extract of her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.