The inaugural CoS Network Voice meeting took place from 12-13 April at the Penny Brohn Centre outside of Bristol. Network Voice developed out of the recognition that an advisory board was needed to ensure that people directly involved in groups and streams from around the network, including refugees and asylum-seekers, in order to influence the strategic direction of City of Sanctuary UK. The Network Voice was set up to:

# advise the trustees on strategic direction;

# provide information and feedback from around the network on developments;

# provide input into working groups on particular issues including streams;

# provide opportunities for staff and trustees to engage with the wider network;

# and be a forum for listening to the wider voice from the CoS movement.

The focus for the 2019 meeting was for the network to inform the CoS Theory of Change and begin discussions to inform the development of a communications strategy as well as review how to better put people seeking sanctuary at the centre of our work. Chief Officer Sian Summer-Rees kicked off the substantive discussions  with an overview of the Charter, Strategic Objectives and how we are aiming to increase engagement of people seeking sanctuary across our network. Jonathan Ellis then talked about our Theory of Change, and what specifically we in  CoS need to do to make the UK a welcoming place for all.

In break-out groups, attendees responded to the draft Theory of Change  and developed ideas on how to improve and better explain our approach. Some groups identified that the examples did not reflect enough the experience of sanctuary speakers. Also groups identified other partners with which we need to be working to ensure success in making our Theory of Change viable.

After lunch, Forward presented a draft communications plan and a “house style” guide to ensure that the language we use as CoS is coherent across the organisation, and reflects our inclusive approach. Groups then discussed how we can better use communications and the media to tell the unique story of CoS. There was consensus that while we have rich array of amazing human interest stories from across the network, but we do not yet adequately convey these to media outlets and the public.

In the late afternoon, using a World Cafe style approach, attendees rotated between four tables each with different foci. The first table was a discussion on the streams strategy, while the second reviewed the expanding work with Councils in the CoS network, the third table examined how to better includes the voices of sanctuary seekers while the fourth table sought to unpack what the network needs from the national CoS team. The first day closed with an inspiring ceremony to celebrate the first graduates of the UK Sanctuary in Politics (insert link here) which took place in Bristol in December .  Six participants in the courses presented to Network Voice the projects they had completed, and received their certificates of completion for the coursework.

The next morning Colin Yeo, barrister and writer/blogger focused on immigration law, gave a talk which outlined the hostile environment, and how the government has progressively outsourced aspects of the enforcement of immigration policy to public service providers such as the NHS and private citizens such as landlords. He put this governmental policy in a historical context and demonstrated how asylum claims have dropped since the highs of the early 2000s. He also talked about how the public narrative around immigration may be changing, particularly in light of the Windrush scandal.

Following Colin Yeo’s thoughtful, if sobering presentation, the meeting was closed with some final thoughts and reflections from Jonathan Ellis, Deputy Chair of the Trustees. He thanked all the participants for the interesting, challenging discussions held over the two days, all of which will shape the direction of CoS’ work over the coming year.