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Creating online communities

In the face of the challenges of organising life with the outbreak of Covid-19, City of Sanctuary’s North East Sanctuary Ambassadors have been mobilising their communities with practical support and online video campaigns.

The group of 18 Sanctuary Ambassadors – who are all seeking sanctuary here in the UK from different countries across the world – have recent graduated from the Sanctuary in Politics in February 2020 and are all engaged in various local community action and national campaigning.

Sanctuary Ambassadors after the Sanctuary in Politics graduation in February 2020.

Within days of the outbreak hitting the UK, the North East Sanctuary Ambassadors’ WhatsApp group was a buzz with practical tips, personal messages of encouragement, and updates on how people are finding creative ways to cope.

One example comes from Shams, a sanctuary seeker from Niger and currently living in the North East. Until the lock-down, Shams was volunteering in his local community, offering IT support for a community centre as well as volunteer with British Red Cross, North East Migration Partnership and various other NGOs in the North East. Today he is adapting his activities:

“I am trying to create online groups, due to the social distancing rules, where once or twice a week over Zoom, social media like WhatsApp groups can have an exchange of ideas, talk about the advocacy we are doing and how we can continue that virtually, on social media. We have also being using Zoom to host improvised comedy, sharing jokes and stories to lift people’s morale. People can come up with uplifting videos for us and for the wider British public”

In another example, MD – a sanctuary seeker from Bangladesh living in Newcastle – has been distributing emergency food packages to people seeking sanctuary on his bike around his neighbourhood, while taking the necessary social distancing measures.

Credit: MD. MD delivering food packages from his bike

Shams again:

“We are also using these online groups to see who needs support. In my local community, people are doing food parcel deliveries, of course with  social distancing in mind, with a mask and gloves you knock on the door and then stand back and leave them the food on their doorstep. People are volunteering to help the elderly or those who cannot go out. I have been doing that. It is bad for us but we can get through this.”

The Sanctuary Ambassadors in the North East are demonstrating very positive examples of how to respond in the challenges circumstances of having to stay at home. In the next few days we will be announcing City of Sanctuary’s top tips for how to sustain the sanctuary movement while refraining from physical contact with others during the current lock-down (as of 2nd April 2020).