By Tiffy Allen
Newcastle – proud to be a City of Sanctuary.
Recognised and celebrated in 2012 as the first City of Sanctuary in the vibrant North East of England, Newcastle has always been a city to inspire and challenge us. The region now boasts five vibrant groups, several flagship Schools of Sanctuary, and countless creative and innovative expressions of welcome in arts, faith and sports, and we were given a truly Geordie welcome as scores of visitors gathered in Newcastle’s Civic Centre for City of Sanctuary’s annual AGM and conference.
The tone of a sunny and warm welcome was set on the Monday evening when the newly appointed North East Coordinator, Sam, welcomed us to Space 6. The informal ‘artsy’ atmosphere was conducive to lots of informal sharing and making new friends, while we worked together on a timeline of the City of Sanctuary story from the first shared cup of tea in Sheffield 2005 to the 120 or so groups across UK and Ireland today. We also did some informal mapping of our own nations and regions while we munched pizza and watched the blazing sun set across the Tyne below.
Thank you to all our generous hosts in Newcastle who provided overnight accommodation enabling more refugees to attend from afar. The benefits were mutual: "Just wanted to say what a privilege & delight it was to have had E___ from S___ to stay with us. We learned so much from our conversations, despite it being such a short time & hope to keep in touch."
The next day was a buzz of activity, but we were ably guided through by our skilled chairs for the day, Susan and Joseph, and the spacious and welcoming atmosphere helped to ground us. With so many stimulating ideas & interesting new friends to meet, the excitement was palpable. The morning’s round table discussions really helped us to focus and share our ideas and experiences with new people, and the examples of Schools and Universities of Sanctuary along with the personal testimony of refugees were especially inspirational. And just when we were beginning to get tired, we were treated to a delicious lunch, which many of us took out into the spacious grounds and glorious May sunshine.
Sam’s City of Sanctuary song, bringing together strands of sanctuary over 1000 years, was a touching reminder that we were tapping into an ancient and time honoured culture of welcome in this remarkable region, and we parted feeling more connected, more equipped and more motivated than ever to make sanctuary a daily reality in our cities, towns and villages across these isles.
“The City of Sanctuary annual meeting in Newcastle was an extraordinarily rich event, full of interesting examples of good practices from the length and breadth of the U.K. I was particularly taken by two activities - the Sanctuary in Health developments, including an impressive resource pack on mental health and Gardens of Sanctuary, which focuses on community gardens and environmental projects.”
"What a brilliant day. Look forward to the next one."
I was also really inspired by the Schools of Sanctuary workshop and the idea of a space of sanctuary: Sheffield have an actual space in the city centre where they offer information and advice, relaxation, access to computers, a hot meal every Tuesday and much more for refugees and asylum seekers."
"Thanks so much for letting me attend - it was a truly fantastic day. I normally get very anxious in unfamiliar social situations but the people I met were so lovely and welcoming."
“The AGM was extremely inspiring and through the process of interaction with others I thought of a few ideas that could be implemented in Ireland in the future. Lots of ideas for using sports as a way of integration came up when I was chatting to a delegate, for example, to merge the existing sports program in Surrey with colleges here such as in Trinity, we have the GSU that does regular football matches and they would be happy to collaborate."
Leaflet from the media workshop - Benefits of using your website
Leaflet from the Health workshop - Healthcare Charging Briefing for refugee and asylum support groups
All photographs of the day accredited to Simone Rudolphi with thanks.