Soho shop invites Londoners to walk a mile in refugees' shoes
A shop in Soho is inviting Londoners to walk a mile in the shoes of a refugee living in the capital.
The Choose Love x A Mile in My Shoes store, which opened on Friday, offers people the chance to borrow a pair of shoes belonging to a refugee and literally take a walk while listening to the story of their life.
The interactive exhibit, a collaboration between aid organisation Help Refugees and art project Empathy Museum, will present nearly 20 new stories from refugees who have made London their home to mark Refugee Week.
The eclectic collection of stories includes storytellers from various stages of their lives and places across the world.
Among these are Lord Alf Dubs, a politician and advocate for fellow refugees who arrived in London as a child from Czechoslovakia, and Ramla Ali, a Somali boxer who has won numerous titles for England.
Visitors to the shop will be given a pair of shoes to wear based on the size of their feet, and a headset to listen to the story of their owner.
Each story is roughly the length of time it would take to walk a mile, so people can take the headset for a wander around the streets of Soho.
Philli Boyle, director of Help Refugees, told the Standard the project is about "creating a positive narrative" around refugees.
"There's a lot of othering that goes on with the word refugee," she said.
"We wanted to work with the Empathy Museum because we know that through their pop-ups a member of the public connect with a complete stranger, and understand some part of their story to see that person as a human being."
Empathy Museum is a series of participatory art projects aimed at encouraging the public to look at the world through other people's eyes.
Since 2016, the travelling museum has toured the UK, Belgium, Ireland, the US, Brazil and Australia, welcoming more than 25,000 people to walk a mile in a stranger’s shoes.
Ms Boyle said she hoped the latest project will help Londoners "feel a closer connection to refugees living in this city and in the UK".
She added: "Hearing from people who have come to the UK seeking sanctuary we are reminded how as individuals, as communities and as a country we can and should be doing more to welcome people fleeing conflict and persecution.”
The project builds upon Empathy Museum’s ever-growing library of shoes and stories, collected as the A Mile in My Shoes project travels the globe.
The collection now holds more than 250 stories, covering different aspects of life – from loss and grief to love and hope.
Ms Patey, director of Empathy Museum, said "we hope our shoe shop will give visitors a space to practice empathy and to take a moment to see the world through someone else’s eyes".
"It was a reaction to declining levels of empathy in the world and a rising level of division," she said.
"If you can put yourself into someone else's shoes it's a powerful embodiment of that person.
"I hope it creates the experience of what it's like to be them."
She added: "Given that London is made up of people from all over the world this shop is a nice way to celebrate that."
Choose Love x A Mile in My Shoes will be at 3 Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RE until June 23.