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Network conversation – report from the first facilitated conversation.

The City of Sanctuary UK South West coordinator Nikki Walters facilitated the first City of Sanctuary network conversation on Zoom today. 43 people attended the successful and energising conversation which focused on managing drop-in sessions beyond lockdown.

See PPT Presentation  – Drop Ins

Ben from Northumberland County of Sanctuary which used to run two separate drop-in sessions a week have been able to keep in touch with 280 people via texts, telephone and video link. Volunteers and people seeking sanctuary meet in language groups to ensure good communications. They are working in partnership with the Red Cross and Being Women and have been able to continue delivering necessities and provide equipment to families to support access to the Internet and almost everybody now has a bicycle.

We then heard from Shali and Pete at Leicester City of Sanctuary where they are continuing to make payments from their emergency funds, refer to food banks, deliver toiletry packs and keep in touch with everybody through their WhatsApp broadcasting group. They also broadcast a regular exercise class and in partnership with Leicester University of Sanctuary continue to deliver online ESOL courses from beginners to advanced.  They are already risk assessing for ways of opening up safely and have met in a local park with small groups.

Between 5 and 8 people joined several breakout groups to share further information and look at ways of coming to decisions including consulting with people seeking sanctuary about moving forward out of lockdown. In Bristol over 100 solidarity phone calls are made each week by volunteers where people are consulted about their urgent needs and priorities. In Swansea, they have opened up a virtual shop and people order via WhatsApp. Manchester have raised £1000 to distribute smart devices and data across their network.

There were many other excellent examples of how groups maintain contact, and references to various topics including allotments, crowdfunding and social media.  The value of face-to-face interaction, and social connection – bonding over shared meals and the building of meaningful relationships – are now much more challenging. There were more questions than answers including how to reach out to those whose contact details we do not have and ensuring sufficient access and support where the numbers of people seeking sanctuary are considerable. We also briefly discussed the tricky balance between those on the side of safety and risk assessment and people who were desperate for social connection again.

Although too short and insufficient time for everybody to share everything, there was a real buzz of excitement and connection which will lead to many more follow-up conversations across the network as we continue to support one another to meet the vision of a welcoming society.  We will also be developing the website to share materials, case studies and examples from across the network to support and inspire.

The Tudor Trust Foundation has provided advice to small voluntary groups on re-opening safely which can be found here.

We will continue to hold facilitated conversations as well as training events and welcome requests from groups across the network for specific topics. The next facilitated conversation will connect  those groups who are particularly engaged with the resettlement schemes and will be held at 11am on Tuesday August 4th. Joining details from your Regional Coordinator.

And on September 25th we will be bringing together ESOL teachers to discuss how they are continuing classes online to share challenges and solutions.