Project objectives and targets

Project objectives and targets Since 2015 the scale of involuntary youth migration into Europe has increased and this is challenging for both individual migrants and the communities they are moving into.


Previous research conducted in Nottingham has shown migrants desire ‘to become full members of the social and cultural fabric of the city.’ (Pero et al 2008, 62). However, the reality is that most feel isolated and experience ‘non belonging’ (ibid). There is widespread concern with how this perceived isolation affects young people’s ability to and enact their ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre 1968). Failure to integrate has profound implications for migrants and established communities in cities and increases risks of anti-social behaviours as well as mental and physical wellness. Gendered identities and differences in attitudes toward gender relations are a particular point of tension. The specific problem addressed by this project is how city leaders can lessen the impact of social isolation experienced by young people on forced migration journeys who have newly arrived in cities in different European contexts.


Together with our problem owners the municipal authorities, we are interested in understanding how to enable young refugees and migrants to build connections with their new place such that they can go on to lead lives of meaningful engagement in their city.


This concern relates to identity formation, but is also coupled with the development of skills, social connections and cultural capital that young people are able to mobilise as they become citizens in their settlement cities. In the context of a (as yet unknown) post-COVID-19 world, these issues become even more pressing.


UNESCO calls for cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Sustainable Development Goal11, Habitat III, 2016). In 2015, Culture Ministers across Europe agreed that culture and the arts have a role to play in the process of integrating refugees into host societies (McGregor and Ragab 2016, 5). These mandates are not yet fulfilled. The responsibility for realizing them falls to cities and community organizations. They have to develop strategies to facilitate modes and activities leading to higher levels of connection and belonging.


The challenge is to do so in a planned and sustainable way given the conflicting demands on resources and the unpredictable nature of movement into the city by forced migrants.

Working with arts and cultural organizations within these urban spaces offers a proven way of integrating disenfranchised groups. While forced migrants are unable to bring physical artefacts from their past with them, they can carry memories and associations of arts and cultural practices.


Socially inclusive city arts institutions can powerfully utilize these. They are also therapeutic and social spaces where past trauma can be safely explored. Art provides a connection to place, but also provides opportunities for social connections that enable the formation of a sense of community in a place. In so doing, participation in arts and cultural activities which acknowledge and build on the experiences and skills of the new arrivals acknowledges that through the arts, integration can become a two-way process between the incomer and the host community. This project will create a planned programme of arts-based place-making activities for forced migrants in three cities, providing data for analysis to further understand enabling factors for social integration, and the basis for development of a set of resources for other cities to use.


A central feature of our project design is the concept of the Cultural Rucksack (CR), a programme for arts and culture for young people (Christophersen et al 2015). It is intended to develop cultural citizens who appreciate expressions of professional art and culture (UNESCO 2012), by linking educational institutions to cultural organisations. Young people are invited to visit and participate in a variety of activities and metaphorically ‘fill’ the rucksack with place-significant cultural experiences. This project will extend conceptual understanding and application of the CR concept to support the integration of young forced migrants within their new urban spaces and create opportunities for dialogue with local residents. This means that interaction with the CR will lead to reciprocal change for the young person, the community and the arts institutional base of the city. The goals of this research are to facilitate integration through cultural participation by:

  •  deepening understanding of the role of arts and cultural place-making in fostering social belonging for new arrivals

  • establishing a set of principles for city municipalities to draw upon when working with arts and cultural institutions in programmes intended to foster social belonging and connectedness 

  • extending the concept of the Cultural Rucksack as a mechanism for framing social and cultural engagement for new arrivals in urban spaces and generating affordances that recognize their capabilities and aspirations

  • developing virtual exhibition spaces to enact the digital right to the city across cities 

  • exploring comparatively what ideas can or can’t be transferred across contexts.

  • portfolios that enable migrants to articulate their aspirations and demonstrate their capability to enhance future work/learning and citizenship

  •  Connecting problem holders, local actors and researchers within and across urban localities

  • Establishing infrastructure that enables sustainable on-going knowledge sharing across the three cities and beyond to other urban migration destinations in Europe.