It is with great sadness we announce the recent passing of Stephen Press, Chair of City of Sanctuary Southampton group.
Stephen had first become involved with the group in early 2014, making an immediate impact and the steady progress of the group dates from his involvement. As well as being Chair, he also managed a local community centre that became a key hub for refugees, asylum seekers and other marginalised groups in the community. He worked famously long hours at the centre, but always threw himself passionately into the work of City of Sanctuary.
Stephen worked tirelessly to raise the profile of City of Sanctuary Southampton in the local community, making links with other organisations and statutory partners by delivering presentations and hosting workshops. He created a women’s only stream locally, implementing a successful sewing group hosted at his community centre and he ran many events for Refugee Week through the years. He was also keen to encourage people to become involved in City of Sanctuary, having been asked to speak to other individuals in the south who were interested in starting a new group in their area.
One of Stephen’s key achievements for City of Sanctuary Southampton was forging a successful relationship with Southampton City Council, which played a significant role in the group receiving official recognition and endorsement by the Council in 2017.
Stephen always supported the development of new initiatives that sought to champion refugees and asylum seekers, including providing support to new local organisations. He provided guidance and assistance to Southampton Action, a charity borne out of collecting donations for refugees in 2015. He was also crucial to the achievements and successes enjoyed by World Stages Now theatre group for refugees and asylum seekers. He encouraged the participation of the theatre group in a whole range of events, large and small, including performing in disadvantaged community spaces unrepresented in the main culture stream of Southampton and supported their application to become a Theatre of Sanctuary.
Dennis Cooke, Coordinator City of Sanctuary Southampton
“Above all, there was the character of the man. He really cared about people. The phrase frequently used about Stephen was that he was “a lovely man” and indeed he was. City of Sanctuary Southampton will not be the same without him.”
Wendy Arrowsmith, World Stages Now Theatre group
“It is his personal attention to individuals and his ability to see people without prejudice as to their race, gender, class and ethnicity that will be most missed by our group. He treated us all as equals and made each and everyone of us feel valued and capable of reaching our full creative potential.”
City of Sanctuary Southampton will not be the same without him – he was so much more than the Chair. He was a cheerleader for everyone involved in working with refugees and asylum seekers in the local community, and he will be much missed. The thoughts of everyone are with his family at this time, and City of Sanctuary Southampton are grateful to them for having a collection for the local group at his funeral.
Nicola Walters, South West Regional Coordinator
With contributions from Dennis Cooke, Coordinator – City of Sanctuary Southampton, and Wendy Arrowsmith, World Stages Now Theatre Group.