Coventry is a multi cultural city of 310,000 which has been benefiting from migrants since the Huguenots fled from France in the 17th century and set up a ribbon weaving industry . Building on and working with with some excellent services that already existed in their city, the City of Sanctuary group has worked hard to ensure that sanctuary values are represented in areas such as education, health, housing and faith sectors. In preparing their bid, they decided to ask sanctuary seekers what they think of Coventry.
“One of the ways we thought we should find this out was by conducting in depth interviews with refugees who trusted us well enough to be truthful. Of the 18 interviews we have done so far (half with men, half with women, from twelve different countries) we were pleased to discover that two-thirds had found Coventry a friendly place, both in general and in their own street, and felt safe here. That is not to say that they had not had some particularly horrible experiences – half had had at least one. They were especially forthcoming on the advice they would give to newly-arrived refugees: not to shut themselves away but to get out and join a group, maybe their own community organisation or a faith-group. Being able too to go to English classes was crucial.
We think we are a City of Sanctuary and with the cuts affecting every aspect of life in the City from the demise of Neighbourhood Management to the probable closure of Friends because of funding cuts we feel we will have to run fast to stay still for the foreseeable future. If not now – when?
But we will keep running fast, taking every opportunity to encourage the development of services where we see need. Refugee community groups are getting more established and will be taking a much stronger lead in shaping the future. They are currently working on a more comprehensive welcome system where new arrivals are given the opportunity to meet some one from their community to help them understand how things work. We are discussing how we might encourage the provision of ESOL when Government support stops in the summer. We will keep the channels of communication open between statutory bodies and refugees. We won’t give up. We will indeed make this a Decade of Welcome in our City of Sanctuary.”