This is a short report from an excellent and inspiring Midlands regional gathering of the City of Sanctuary movement which took place in Wolverhampton on October 20th. People from across the region came together to explore how we can continue to grow the movement, to offer a practice and a culture of welcome and to challenge the UK Government’s hostile immigration policies.
We were welcomed to Wolverhampton by Mark* who has been living in the city 5 months and shared his reasons for seeking sanctuary and his experience of receiving a welcome. Huge thanks to Mark and to everyone from Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary for all their hard work in the lead up to the gathering, and on the day itself, for making it such a success.
The first panel of the day was chaired by John Catley (Chair, Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary) and made up of two Wolverhampton MPs.
Emma Reynolds MP focused her opening remarks on the Windrush generation highlighting the scandal of government policy and the appalling impact it is having on people’s lives. She pointed out that the focus now being given by the government to people from the Windrush generation should also be extended to others seeking sanctuary in the UK.
Eleanor Smith MP spoke about the injustices of the hostile environment ‘leading refugees, seeking safety here in Britain, homeless, forcing families further into poverty.’
There were several questions asked to the MPs including on the right to work, the plight of the Chagos Islanders, the illegal detention of people who have been tortured, what Labour’s policies would be if they came to power and more. It was clear from their answers that both MPs are advocates of a much fairer, humanitarian-based immigration system and are willing to support the City of Sanctuary movement to ensure this happens. A short-write up from Eleanor Smith’s office can be found here and here is a Tweet from Emma Reynolds.
There were then four excellent and informative workshops on Schools of Sanctuary (led by Barbara Forbes of Birmingham City of Sanctuary); Universities of Sanctuary (led by David Brown of Birmingham City of Sanctuary); Media and Communications (led by Niall Mann from iMix) and Campaigning to Lift the Ban (led by Emma Birks and Andrea Vukovic from Asylum Matters). Notes and presentations from these workshops can be found below.
Lunch was cooked by members of Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary including people seeking sanctuary in the city and was an amazing feast of Syrian soup, salads, samosas, kebabs and much else.
After lunch we heard reports from around the region. It was truly inspiring to hear from City of Sanctuary groups about their efforts and the difference they are making in their towns and cities. There isn’t space here to even summarise all the presentations but the following offers a few highlights and gives an idea of the diversity of activity.
Wolverhampton: Weekly drop-in; cooking lessons; literacy and numeracy; regular meet and mingles; sponsored outings
Coventry: CARAG share the huge challenges faced by many of their members and their campaigning and other activities to support people who are destitute and let down by the UK asylum system
Leicester: Registered charity; Support from Lloyds Foundation grant; weekly drop-in; work with Leicester City Football Club; support from the police and fire service; Red Cross advice; film club
Derby: Sanctuary Specialists supporting schools, the council and an ice cream shop (!). Working closely with the council and the university.
Stafford: Part of the Home Office VPRS contract; looking at becoming a CIO; Saturday Socials; ESOL classes; Clothing collections; Schools of Sanctuary.
Loughborough: Welcome at the reporting centre; vouchers for food and drink; linking people with services in nearby cities; registered as a charity
Birmingham: Mapping of services across the city; Schools of Sanctuary (11 awards); Libraries and Universities work; significant council commitments; future focus on health and mental health
The day closed with a panel made up of Ben Margolis (regional coordinator, City of Sanctuary), Emma Birks (regional coordinator, Asylum Matters) and Jonathan Ellis (vice-chair, City of Sanctuary).
Ben shared his own story of involvement in the movement and some of the growth and success from other regions. He reminded groups about the importance of the charter and highlighted some of its key principles and values.
Emma talked about the work of Asylum Matters and encouraged all groups to support the important Lift the Ban campaign that has just launched.
Jonathan Ellis talked about how inspired he felt from the day, and in particular from the local group updates. He also updated everyone on the work of the national board and the upcoming creation of Network Voice – a group which will represent regions and streams at a national level. He encouraged anyone interested in finding out more to contact Ben.
A huge thanks to the nearly 70 people who came to Wolverhampton for this inspiring event and for all of the amazing work you do, almost entirely voluntarily, every day to make the Midlands a welcoming region for all those seeking sanctuary.
If you are based in the Midlands would like to follow up on anything mentioned in this report, would like to get involved in your local City of Sanctuary group, or would like to set up a group where there isn’t an existing one, look at our website (www.cityofsanctuary.org) or contact Ben Margolis at [email protected] or on 07954043674.
* not his real name
(The above file has missing pictures in order to reduce its size for adding here. Please contact Ben if you wish to see the original.)