The new Initial Accommodation Centre for asylum seekers to be dispersed to 15 towns and cities around Yorkshire, Humberside and the North East has recently opened at Angel Lodge Wakefield, and 35 representatives from City of Sanctuary groups all over those regions met there this week to look into ways they could work together to ensure ‘sanctuary’ is experienced in the centre and in the places of dispersal. The delegates met with representatives from Refugee Council, G4S and Urban Housing and had a look around the recently reburbished hostel, which houses around 200 people, most of whom stay around 3 weeks. The meeting helped to identify which services are provided, where the gaps are, and how we can use our volunteer resources AND voice to fill the gaps where we can and at the same time question policy which fails to provide some of the basic needs.
We had an oppoprtunity to hear the details of what happens in the centre and how people are dispersed. Wakefield City of Sanctuary group is positioning itself to use volunteers and local supporting groups in a variety of ways, ensuring that the response is appropriate, credible and sustainable. For example, there is nothing in place to ensure that new arrivals receive warm clothes and shoes, and as the group is not permitted to bring such things into the centre, to work with local charities and make sure that adequate clothing is recived by those who need it most. The Wakefield group is also looking into directing people to English classes and drop-ins within easy reach of the centre, and plannng some special events like workshops. A women’s meeting is to be started in Angel Lodge. Children are not provided with any activities and do not receive any schooling, so we were concerned to discover that the very nice playroom has been locked because there is no supervision. The possibilities, opportuntiies and challenges are endless!
Meanwhile, the Leeds group presented the pilot project, Welcome To Leeds, which enables Refugee Council to refer all new dispersals for a welcoming and signposting service. The project has worked very well and several beneficiaries have become volunteers. Other cities present are considering starting such a scheme.