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Report from the “Sharing our Stories” Wales and South West Regional Gathering

Nicola Walters, South West Coordinator and Rebecca Scott, Wales Coordinator

On Wednesday 28th November, delegates from all corners of Wales and the South West of England came together for a joint regional gathering of the City of Sanctuary movement. The theme of the day was “Sharing Our Story”, specifically looking at how groups can share their inspiring stories of local welcome and involve Sanctuary Seekers in all aspects of their work.

We opened the event’s proceedings with two celebrations. Firstly, Cardiff Metropolitan University, who kindly hosted the event at their Llandaff campus, became the first university in Wales to be presented with a “University of Sanctuary” award. This was followed by Tongwynlais Football Club being presented with the first “Football Club of Sanctuary” award for the whole of the City of Sanctuary movement. Congratulations to both of these fantastic organisations.

Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer of City of Sanctuary UK, spoke of the key principles and values of the City of Sanctuary network. She also talked about the varied streams of work now in place and how these are continuing to develop.

Rebecca Scott, Wales Coordinator, and Nicola Walters, South West Coordinator, both gave regional overviews that highlighted some of the outstanding work and achievements happening in the two areas. Rebecca talked about her recent tour of the groups across Wales ahead of her departure onto a new role, and her hopes for how Wales would develop as a Nation of Sanctuary in the future. Nicola, who started as South West Coordinator in the summer explained about how she has just started touring her groups and how she wants to engage with them in 2019.

The floor was then opened to representatives from individual groups and organisations to share what is happening in their local area, describing their successes and areas for development. It was inspiring to hear the breadth of activities happening across the network to demonstrate welcome, from the smallest acts of individual welcome and befriending to running projects tailored to meet the needs of sanctuary seekers. There was a keen interest in learning from each other’s experiences and working together to share good practice across the regions.

Joe Allen from Asylum Matters gave a presentation on the Lift the Ban campaign, highlighting how preventing asylum seekers from working harms integration and stops individuals from contributing their skills. The Lift the Ban campaign is calling for a reduction in the waiting period before work is permitted from 12 months to 6 months and removing the restrictions on the types of jobs asylum seekers are eligible to apply for.

After lunch Sian spoke about Network Voice, an upcoming initiative which will form a group representing regions and streams at a national level and ensure that the voice of sanctuary seekers is at the heart of all decisions made by City of Sanctuary. Nicola talked about other ways Sanctuary Seekers can be involved in the network, such as by attending the upcoming Sanctuary in Politics course or by becoming involved in roles within the local groups and Rebecca explained about the Sanctuary Speakers project in Wales.

The last session of the day was hosted by Emma Harrison from iMix, who led a fantastic workshop exploring how to communicate with different groups of the public about issues facing sanctuary seekers. Emma also talked about how to engage with local media organisations and how to tell compelling stories which are likely to be picked up.

Thank you to all the participants who attended for making it such a great event, and thank you to our hosts, Cardiff Metropolitan University for use of their Hospitality Suite and for providing a delicious lunch.