TEENAGE refugees and asylum seekers who have fled war-torn countries have been making new friends in their new home of County Durham.

A group of 20 newly-settled youngsters from Syria and Iraq came together with other teenagers from across the county for three days of creative workshops.

The sessions, held in Crook, were arranged by a team of three young men in a bid to tackle a rise in "social unease" surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in England.

Organisers Brendan Hoar, 17, and 18-year-olds Joshua Conlon and Sam Ward-Hardy, from Weardale, are members of Crook-based Jack Drum Arts and have been collaborating under the name of Runaway Samba for the last year.

Helen Ward, managing director of Jack Drum Arts, said: “I am so proud of the young people from Runaway Samba for successfully bringing together over 40 young people from a range of cultures, backgrounds and abilities to spend three days together learning, sharing and having lots of fun together trying out creative activities such as music, drama, dance, arts and crafts, and stilt walking for those who aren’t scared of heights.

"The generosity shown by the young people over the last few days to support each other has ensured that everyone feels welcome, it really has been a pleasure to witness.

"Hopefully this is just the beginning of something quite special, that we at Jack Drum Arts can build on for the future, creating a legacy for this youth led initiative.”

Runaway Samba's "social inclusion project" at St Cuthbert's Community Centre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was inspired by stories in the national and local news of the treatment of refugees.

They decided to use music as a way of integrating the young refugees with other teenagers, aged between 15 and 18, who are suffering or at risk of mental health issues.

Young leader Josh said: "The success of the project can be seen in both the enthusiasm in the workshops and the random snatches of conversation held between young people from different cultures.

"The integration, inclusion and the friendships that are being developed demonstrate why we wanted to organise this project; crafting, connecting and developing a community of young people from different backgrounds, different cultures and of different ages."

Runaway Samba have been supported by North-East charity, The Key, which worked with the teens on their project through its skills development programme.

Una MacDermott, project manager of The Key, said: “The Key aims to inspire belief in young people by delivering our unique framework, which supports young people to discover what they’re truly capable of and build their skills and self-confidence for the future.

"It was great to see the Runaway Samba take their passions for helping others who are socially isolated and dealing with mental health issues and turn it into a project that will have a lasting impact on not only the community but the young people attending.

"This is what The Key is all about and it’s great to see the young people break barriers and step outside of their comfort zone.”