At 2:30 on Saturday afternoon a group of young sanctuary seekers were on their knees, some pleading for work, some suffering the exhaustion of doing three jobs. The audience was in hysterics.
Not what you might expect at a gathering of the City of Sanctuary movement from around the South-East of England but we were being treated to a performance from some of the amazing people involved with PsycheDelight. This ground-breaking theatre company works with sanctuary seekers to help with expression and integration. They are now the proud recipients of a Theatre Company of Sanctuary award presented to them at the gathering by Jonathan Ellis, vice-Chair of the City of Sanctuary movement. We were delighted to also present an award to Global Social Club who became a Youth Club of Sanctuary. GSC is based in Brighton and brings together young people seeking sanctuary with young people from the local area creating opportunities for friendship and solidarity.
Whilst there was laughter and celebration, the day started with a reminder of the appalling circumstances people seeking sanctuary face. Luljeta Nuzi shared her experience of claiming asylum in the UK and facing appalling housing and a complete lack of support for her and her children. Priscille Manga bravely told her story of 20 years (to the day – she arrived in the UK on November 3, 1998) of homelessness, destitution and forced work trying to claim asylum after fleeing her home country. Our gratitude to these two extraordinary and brave women for reminding everyone why we volunteer our time and our energy to create a culture and a society where stories like this become a thing of the past.
Throughout the day we heard from some of the amazing groups aiming to achieve this:
From Reading where City of Sanctuary is now an independent charity focused on developing streams and awards and working with libraries, the university and on allotments.
From Epsom where the Zig Zag café has become a vital hub and a café of sanctuary and where large numbers of volunteers offer hosting and English teaching.
From Elmbridge who offer ESOL, 1:1 support, culture kitchens and advocacy.
From Camden where the City of Sanctuary group has struggled to gain traction but which has created lots of spin-offs including HostNation and which is now building up momentum again
From East Kent which offers hosting and networking between organisations. They are also now working with theatres, schools and universities
From Brent where the Multi-Faith Forum is working towards Brent Borough of Sanctuary. They are focused on welcome, services and justice through schools, faith groups and the council
From Sanctuary-on-Sea in Brighton and Hove whose council passed a resolution of support and now has 14 schools of sanctuary and partnerships with the amazing famous Brighton Table-Tennis club and lots of organisations in the area
From Hastings where the Festival by the Lake attracted over 1000 people and a buddy scheme has been set up. They have good support from the council with councillors on the board of their Community of Sanctuary group
Finally, and definitely not least, from East Hoathly and Halland – a small village showing that anyone, anywhere can get involved in City of Sanctuary. They work to welcome refugees, raise awareness and campaign and provide resources and now support several other villages in the area as well as offering English teaching, befriending, drivers, days out and much more.
One of our great strengths is in this fantastic network of people and I would encourage you to get in touch with each other to follow up on learning from the day. All group contact details can be found on their web pages through www.cityofsanctuary.org/groups.
There were also fantastic workshops exploring:
Media and Communications with iMix
Campaigning to Lift the Ban with Asylum Matters
Creating a Youth Group of Sanctuary with the Global Social Club
Using the Arts to Welcome People Seeking Sanctuary with PsycheDelight
Creating villages, towns, boroughs and cities of sanctuary with City of Sanctuary
Self-care when working with people seeking sanctuary with CARAS
Huge gratitude to everyone who facilitated a workshop. All presentations are available in the links below. We are also particularly grateful for the Quakers for hosting us in their wonderful building in Central London as part of their commitment to the Sanctuary movement.
Thank you to everyone for coming and making this such a special, emotional, inspiring day. I look forward to working with you throughout the year and to meeting all together again soon.
As Jonathan Ellis reminded us in his powerful closing words, after World War 2 there was a consensus amongst governments that it was never right to attack migrants and ‘outsiders’ which led to the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Today we are seeing governments attacking that consensus and attacking migrants in order to curry popular favour. Our efforts will ensure that the UK Government does not get away with doing this and that we build a culture and a practice of welcome in all of our villages, towns and cities.
Written by Ben Margolis, City of Sanctuary regional coordinator Midlands, East, South-East
[email protected] 07954043674
Presentations and photographs
Campaigning to Lift the Ban (Asylum Matters workshop)
Media and Communications (iMix workshop)
Photos taken by Jose Farinha (please credit Jose if you use these photos)
“I found the day really very inspiring. I loved meeting the other groups and hearing about their activities”
“Great to feel a part of something. Great input and expertise”