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Our 2nd national conference in Sheffield was a fascinating sharing of achievements, ideas and enthusiasm between City of Sanctuary activists from all over the country.

We had a mixture of presentations, discussions and training workshops, and we also launched our new handbook, ‘Becoming a City of Sanctuary, a practical guide with inspiring examples’ (available from www.cityofsanctuary.org/book)..

High points of the day for me were the presentations from Bradford, Coventry, Sheffield & Leicester groups.

Will and Chris from Bradford City of Sanctuary told us how they had been invited to talk with local schoolchildren whose classmate of 4 years had recently been deported after a dawn raid. The school has now decided to pay for the former pupil’s GCSE tuition in Nigeria.

Penny from Coventry challenged us to keep focussed on the ‘big picture’. “You can get so used to living with hostility, it’s hard to imagine what a place could look like as a City of Sanctuary.” She described some of the creative ways they have found to demonstrate what it means to be a City of Sanctuary, including ‘learning from refugees’ events, street drama and a ‘performance carwash’ for Refugee Week.

Helen from Leicester described their daytrip to the seaside for destitute people seeking sanctuary, including a Somali fisherman who had his first sight of the sea in 7 years.

Gina from Sheffield emphasised the importance of celebrating a ‘culture of hospitality’. She told how the Mayor of Sheffield presented a ‘City of Sanctuary award’ to young people from a Sheffield housing estate, who have befriended a local Karen refugee family from Burma.

The workshop on the Gateway Protection Programme, which resettles refugees from UN camps in British towns and cities, made a big impression on many participants. Some City of Sanctuary groups are now looking at how they can build support for a Gateway scheme in their local area.

Many thanks to everyone who travelled from all over the country to take part, and to the trainers from the Refugee Council, Refugee Week and Citizens for Sanctuary, who all provided their workshops for free.

Look forward to seeing you at our next conference in 2010!