Ken Loach's The Old Oak tells story of 'abandoned and desolate' Syrian refugee communities

The feature follows a group who fled the civil war and are placed in a neglected community in north-eastern England

The Old Oak director Ken Loach. EPA
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Film director Ken Loach has spoken about the message of hope his new film on Syrian refugees will bring to the big screen.

The Old Oak tells the story of a group of Syrian refugees housed in a neglected former mining village in the north-east of England, and how two traumatised communities are thrown together.

The director said the story is infused with hope, as a community of refugees fleeing war finds common ground with residents of an area of Britain decimated by “decades of government neglect”.

“It’s about the struggle of hope to emerge, isn’t it, and the struggle of people to see hope,” he said in an interview with the Big Issue magazine.

“We couldn’t be in a more disastrous situation with civil society collapsing around us, health, education, homelessness, housing, student debt, poverty and hunger used as a weapon, transport collapsing.

“Every aspect of our life is collapsing, with the added danger from climate disaster.

“So, where you find hope in all that is the big question.

“But the hope has to be in people’s determination to resist and our instinct, and I think it is an instinct, for solidarity.”

The Old Oak completes a trilogy of films set in the north-east, tackling the biggest issues in society, each written by regular collaborator Paul Laverty.

In 2016, the pair shone a spotlight on benefits sanctions and the desperation fuelling the expansion of food banks in I, Daniel Blake.

Two years later, with Loach in his 80s, Sorry We Missed You highlighted the impact of the gig economy and its effect on workers’ rights.

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“We felt we needed to tell a third story, centred in the old mining communities,” Loach added.

“Because the whole area was coal mining, shipbuilding and steel, and all the old industry is gone.

“So what are the consequences for ordinary people?

“The consequences are that the old mining communities are left abandoned with nothing,” Loach said.

“So how do we reveal that in a way that also sheds light on the dangerous swing to the right?

“What happened was that groups of refugees from the Syrian war were placed in these old mining areas by the government without much preparation.

“Now it is much better and there are very good people that help look after refugees from Syria,” he said.

“But refugees from a war zone are placed in these desolate communities that were abandoned with little hope – how can they coexist?

“Where can we find hope in all that? That was the key question,” Loach said.

“When people who have been through the trauma of war are placed in a community of people who have nothing, where do we find hope?”

The Old Oak will be in cinemas from the end of September.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 7:03 AM