Zi Lan Liao runs Pagoda Arts, a youth orchestra based in the Chinese community in Liverpool.  The group has taken part in commemoration projects with Big Ideas, including a memorable day with Everton FC and Liverpool FC Academy players visiting the graves of members of the Chinese Labour Corps buried in Anfield Cemetery during the First World War. She’s looking back over 2020 for Big Ideas:

“The city of Liverpool had a difficult summer, yes, but from the beginning the whole Chinese community across the UK faced a big rise in hate crime. It was brought on by the far right blaming China for the virus.

People were scared to go out. We spent a lot of time trying to keep the community calm and together. There was fighting. Students got beaten up. It’s always a minority, a small group of people who make a lot of trouble for everyone. 

We had to stop the orchestra meeting in the community centre and focus more on the community side. As well as reporting hate crime, we’ve been moving everything online. 

First of all it was just translating all the restrictions. Almost every week something would change and I would get calls all the time, at one in the morning, explaining to people what was going on. 

Now the community is a lot more adapted, we’ve all adapted. 

Elderly residents used to come to us in the morning for Tai Chi so we are providing Tai Chi exercise classes online and supporting people to use new technology.

The youth orchestra has been restricted. Parents are really keen for them to get back to practice and get involved but it is hard to get that same relaxed feel that you have face to face. They are teenagers – they don’t want an adult listening to their conversations!

We have tried to keep creative. We did a close collaboration with them to express their feelings about the Pandemic called Isolate.

Engaging young people has been our biggest challenge. Losing the sense of togetherness as an orchestra.  After the first lockdown I thought we would have lost half the orchestra members but we opened up again they were there. They miss going out and getting together.

These days we are translating for vaccination clinics and pop up testing in the community centre. We are looking ahead to when all this is over when the virus is gone and all this madness gone. 

Chinese New Year will be celebrated on 14 February next year. It’s not easy to plan anything, but we are doing our best to look ahead. 

We are thinking of maybe doing a performance in a car park where people can watch without going close. Or doing a pop up performance which won’t be advertised so it doesn’t create a gathering. 

It’s like Christmas now. We all have to adapt.”