On Saturday 8th June 2019, forty people across the North East came together to learn from one another through sharing their experiences of creating cities and towns of sanctuary.

The day’s programme began with City of Sanctuary Chief Officer Sian Summers-Rees introducing City of Sanctuary’s Theory of Change, which linked smoothly into each local group sharing recent activities and events they have been involved in. The sharing from across the network gave us a beautiful picture of how the everyday conversations, acts of kindness and solidarity and the support gained by local partners (including schools and universities) can create change at a wider level.

‘Sharing the fruits of our friendship’ (Photo Credit: MD)

The gathering also gave the region chance to reflect on how to engage with local authorities, led by Rosie Tapsfield from Newcastle City Council who coordinates Newcastle City of Sanctuary. One of the challenges reported was how to win the argument for becoming a council of sanctuary, drawing on the benefits to the city: attracting wider investment, improving community relations, and dissipating the activity of the far-right.

The day was then followed by a delicious curry prepared by Gateshead local charity, Samosa Sisters – a sanctuary seekers-led catering company supporting destitute people seeking sanctuary.

‘Delicious Food’

After the lunch, the enchanting sounds of Northumberland County of Sanctuary caught everyone’s attention, reminding us of the power of music to empower people to find their voice and communicate their story. The group have been writing their own music about their lives – about friendship, supporting one another, and memories from home – inspired by seeing the Stories of Sanctuary music project in Durham last year.

The gathering then broke into three separate conversation groups (‘World Café’ style) to explore deeper some of the issues the network have asked for support on. This included developing Schools of Sanctuary work, facilitated by Sara Trewhitt, Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Coordinator who supports Collen Molloy (City of Sanctuary’s National Development Officer) on the national Schools of Sanctuary stream. Sara highlighted how more than 250 schools have become part of the movement and introduced recent work to develop a set of minimum qualifications and guidelines to better support schools and groups; a development that is of much interest to North East local groups looking to engage new schools in the stream. (Please contact Sara or Colleen for further support on Schools of Sanctuary)

‘Equal hands of welcome’ (Photo Credit: Suzanne Fletcher) 

We also had sessions on how local groups can use the website to keep an active presence online (facilitated by Nawal Careem,  City of Sanctuary Website & Communication Support Officer) as well as engaging with social media through a photography competition (facilitated by the North East Regional Coordinator Sam Slatcher). (Please contact Nawal if you would like further support on using the website, or to arrange a one-to-one appointment). The photographs in this post were all taken by those who submitted photographs for the competition, along with the captions which came out of the conversations throughout the day.

The gathering concluded with the Tyneside Lift the Ban Day of Action which involved writing postcards and decorating placards to send to the Home Secretary to ask him to help end the ban on work for those seeking sanctuary. Some of the postcards emotionally expressed the frustration of not being able to work. Bringing all the postcards and placards together, we posed for a final photo to share more widely to our support for the campaign (see header photo). Sam Slatcher says:

“This is the second regional gathering and it’s amazing to see how links are emerging across the six very different local groups, supporting one another. I feel we’re closer together as a result of the gatherings and there is a clear synergy between everything we’re doing”.