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South-East Gathering 2019

The South-East City of Sanctuary gathering was generously hosted this year by Hastings Community of Sanctuary who welcomed more than 40 people from across the region to the South coast on October 26.

City of Sanctuary has been expanding rapidly in the South-East over the last 12 months – especially with new groups and Sanctuary Awards in the London Boroughs. The gathering was an opportunity for ‘old hands’ in the movement to meet with more recent members and to share and network together.

We started the day with a minute’s silence to honour the appalling tragedy in Essex earlier in the week when 39 people seeking sanctuary in the UK lost their lives in the back of a refrigerated truck. We then heard from Alex Ntung who was forced to flee his homeland to escape war and eventually found sanctuary in the UK – first in Hastings and now in Canterbury where he is studying for his PhD. It was a powerful start to the day and a reminder to all of us why it is so important that our movement continues to grow stronger and finds ways to ensure that our communities are welcoming to all.

An Experts by Experience panel followed up this theme by exploring how we can ensure that people with lived experience are at the heart of our movement. This is an increasingly important part of our theory of change and relates to the growing body of academic work that stresses the importance of persecuted groups being at the heart of movements for change (see, for example, this article). Rosanna Leal (Hastings Buddy Project), Olivia Namutebi (Women for Refugee Women) and Oscar from Hastings shared their own experiences and the ways in which they have become leading advocates for change within their own communities and in the UK more widely. This led to some important roundtable discussions sharing how we can enable more leadership from Experts by Experience in the movement more broadly.

[NOTE: Similar roundtables and discussions have been taking place at other regional meetings, the national conference, with the Operational Advisory Group (a sanctuary seeker only body that advises the CoS UK trustees) and elsewhere and is being used to guide the work of the staff team.]

We are grateful to Home Ground Kitchen for a fantastic lunch, following which we moved on to focus on some key areas of embedding sanctuary into our communities.

There was a focus on the Schools of Sanctuary stream which is growing rapidly around the UK. Frederika Treeby shared her work with East Kent Schools of Sanctuary, and Susan Grace talked about why and how Newman Catholic College in Brent became a School of Sanctuary. There are now around 300 Schools of Sanctuary in the UK and many City of Sanctuary groups are establishing a schools stream. These vary widely with some led by the group, some by the local authority and some by schools themselves. We also touched briefly on some of the many other streams in the movement including universities, the arts, libraries and museums, health, maternity, gardens and others.

Councillor Kevin Bonavia set out the commitment from Lewisham Borough Council to being a Borough of Sanctuary. He was joined by Alessandra Sciarra from the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network who are very involved with building grassroots support in the Borough. There are details of the councils commitment here and the work of Lewisham Borough of Sanctuary here. The CoS UK team, led by Ben Margolis and Sara Trewhitt, are currently working with several Local Authorities (including Lewisham) to look at how local government can be part of creating a hospitable and welcoming environment in the UK through their own actions and through opposition to elements of the Government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policies.

[NOTE: If you think you have something to contribute in this area and are looking for work, Lewisham Borough Council are currently advertising for a ‘Borough of Sanctuary programme manager.’]

A key part of our work is to campaign for the rights of people seeking sanctuary. Jay Kramer shared the fantastic work that Hastings Community of Sanctuary have been doing on the Lift the Ban campaign. This has led to Hastings Borough Council joining the national campaign and a vote of unanimous support (without joining the national campaign) from East Sussex District Council.

There were some lively roundtable discussions on each of these areas and it has been inspiring to hear from many participants following the gathering that they are exploring some or all of these key areas to develop in the near future.

Ben Margolis

November 4, 2019

Click to see the powerpoint of my national update presented at the regional gathering – SE gathering presentation


The Croydon Voluntary Action ‘We Stand Together’ campaign brins together people seeking sanctuary and sports clubs across the Borough