Skip to main content

Working with Local Authorities

What is a ‘City of Sanctuary?’

Ever since Sheffield declared itself as the first City of Sanctuary in the UK in 2007, the rapidly growing network has struggled to define exactly what we mean by a ‘City of Sanctuary.’ There have been various attempts to bring coherence to this important question including through the ‘Developing a Culture of Welcome’ paper initially written in 2013, but a standardised model has not taken hold.

There are many reasons for this including the huge differences in the context that City of Sanctuary groups are working in, a lack of capacity, and sometimes disagreement over what it means to be a City of Sanctuary.

In the last two years a small number of Local Authorities have made becoming a City of Sanctuary a core part of their corporate strategy and have put in place the resources, networks and structures to make this a reality. They are working closely with us which gives us a potentially unique opportunity to deeply embed sanctuary at the heart of some of our local authorities. We are grateful to some of these authorities for submitting articles in February 2020 as part of our focus on ‘Working with Local Authorities.

Over the last several months, the City of Sanctuary UK staff team have been carrying out a consultation with CoS groups, partners, local authorities and others with the aim of presenting a proposal to be voted on by the CoS membership at our AGM on June 24thin Bradford.

We are proposing:-

  1. To no longer have a City-wide appraisal process
  2. To establish a City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network.

You can read a explanatory background document about the proposal and consultation here.

A Survey Monkey questionnaire has been sent to all City of Sanctuary groups for completion by April 3rd as part of this consultation. If you would like to see a list of the questions prior to completing the survey please click here

Based on the results of discussions so far we want to share with you a draft proposal which has been developed by the CoS UK staff team and which groups are asked to give feedback on through the questionnaire. If you have any comments about this proposal that you would like to discuss with us, please contact Siân at [email protected].


Proposal: To establish a City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network

Details: Local Authorities (directly but with the support of the local CoS group) are able to apply to become a member of the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network. In order to do this, they must:

  • Pass a council motion setting out their commitment to being a place of sanctuary
  • Sign up to the City of Sanctuary charter
  • Show evidence that they are working closely with their local City of Sanctuary group (and/or other refugee networks) and to receive the endorsement from those groups for their application
  • Produce a written strategy (either an independent strategy or as part of a broader strategy) which is publicly available and sets out their commitment for at least three years
  • Provide contact details for the councillor that has responsibility for City of Sanctuary, and at least one council officer as contact points for the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network

Membership will last for three years after which the Local Authority must re-apply.

In return the Local Authority will be:

  • Listed on our website under a list of Local Authorities with a commitment to being a place of sanctuary
  • Given the right to use a special logo (to be designed) recognising their commitment
  • Part of an active peer to peer network supporting each other to improve their sanctuary practices and, where appropriate, lobbying on relevant government policy

The City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network will be guided by a working group made up of:

  • People with lived experience of seeking sanctuary in the UK
  • Councillors with relevant portfolios
  • Council officers with relevant job descriptions
  • Representatives from City of Sanctuary groups
  • A representative from the City of Sanctuary UK national team
  • A representative from the City of Sanctuary trustees

A full Terms of Reference for the group will be prepared in advance of the AGM and included in the final proposal to be voted on by our members.


Developing an agreed process of recognising a whole city as a ‘City of Sanctuary’ has been fraught with difficulties since the early inception of the network. These difficulties remain (and are arguably exacerbated by the growth of the network). It has proven impossible to develop appropriate ‘benchmark’ criteria given the diversity of the external environments within which groups operate across the UK. Additionally, the size of our network means that we no longer have the capacity for staff and trustees to be engaged in the appraisal process.

We also recognise that not all local authorities will want to commit to becoming a City of Sanctuary. In these situations, we feel it is important to ensure that a City of Sanctuary group feel supported and empowered to continue their efforts locally. We have come to the conclusion that the City of Sanctuary Charter is in itself sufficient to provide groups with enough guidance and information to work towards our vision and enables the flexibility necessary for a grassroots movement to flourish.

As part of the proposal local groups will always be able to use the term ‘City of Sanctuary’ to describe themselves, regardless of the level of local authority commitment or engagement. And we would still encourage groups to celebrate achievements at various points during their journey towards making their particular area a welcoming place of safety.  We welcome your thoughts and input.