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Celebrating Sanctuary Launch Event 19th April 2021

Watch the full recording here. 

Our launch event kicking off #CelebratingSanctuary week was an inspirational affair with exciting speakers from across the UK including Caroline Lucas MP and Vice Chair of the APPG for Refugees. Jonathan Ellis, Chair of City of Sanctuary UK fired us all up with his welcome and encouragement – the hostile new plans for immigration may be challenging but we are not disheartened because we have a positive story to tell and we are a vibrant and growing network, building a welcoming alternative.

Sanctuary Ambassador and member of the CoS UK Operational Advisory group, Md (Abir King) reminded us all on how compassion, empathy and empowerment for people seeking sanctuary was vital to build the movement for welcome and the nation. The voices of people seeking sanctuary need to be heard and included in decision making. Md has followed his mother’s advice “Be there for your Community” and he certainly has shown incredible community spirit with his volunteering work with so many different organisations, and Mds Little Help Food Bank. 

Ms introduced our new short film for #CelebratingSanctuary on what sanctuary means.  See it here. 

Caroline Lucas moved everyone at the meeting as she quoted extracts from Warsan Shire’s powerful poem “Home” to illustrate what she was saying.  We will post a separate recording of Caroline’s inspirational speech shortly. She eloquently described what home and sanctuary means, how the current government’s hostile environment policy is at odds with welcoming communities and the power of people coming together in common humanity to persuade decision makers to create a fairer, humane, compassionate system. Caroline inspired with her belief in change as a result of pressure from outside of Westminster, with positive stories and rising voices reflecting the majority compassionate view. “No one should be made destitute or live in fear. People were not desperate to come to the UK but simply desperate. People are not running to jobs or houses in the UK but running away from violence and persecution. “ Caroline’s office is inundated with offers of help and she expressed pride in representing Brighton and Hove – a City of Sanctuary with its first Club of Sanctuary, Schools of Sanctuary, Library of Sanctuary – and the Hummingbird Project. We valued her encouragement for the network to celebrate positive stories of welcome and connect decision makers with people seeking sanctuary.

Sara Trewhitt – CoS UK Lead Coordinator gave us a rich overview of the highlights across the network and streams and in a few short minutes we went from Scotland to Wales via Northern Ireland and England  applauding Sanctuary awards and welcoming work.  The growth of new streams of Sanctuary – Libraries, Colleges, Shops and new resources, new Schools of Sanctuary and rapid growth in University of Sanctuary awards is impressive after a year of the pandemic. We heard about the successful launch of the Local Authority Network in 2020, following months of collaboration & coordination with key LA partners from across the Network, and the recognition of Lewisham Borough Council and several pending applications – from across the UK.

Encouragement for our vision for #CelebratingSanctuary was continued by Emma Harrison from Imix UK who chaired the panel of speakers from across the network strengthening our voices against the upcoming challenges. Imix UK continues to support us to tell stories of positive change and how we can reach out to the “worried middle” and  turn them into refugee champions. Emma’s key messages reflected our Theory of Change – creating opportunities for people to meet refugees, sharing positive stories of welcoming communities and the contribution that people seeking sanctuary make to our society.

We heard from Lauren – one of many befrienders supporting the men at the Penally Barracks in Wales (now thankfully closed) and how this experience has enriched her family and she now has friends for life. Now dispersed but still in touch every day, Lauren hopes they finally find sanctuary in Wales.

Tim from Brighton Table Tennis Club reflected the power of building resilient communities by creating opportunities to meet the basic human needs for belonging and to contribute. Young people seeking sanctuary from across the world are coached at ever table tennis table in the club. We were fortunate to meet Sinh who arrived last year without English or any knowledge of table tennis who told us he was now a coach, a foodbank volunteer, and a volunteer in community football events. See the short video here.

Wolverhampton had three good news stories celebrated in their local media  – a food recipe book collected from local people seeking sanctuary,  Food Without Borders, and an allotment run by six women which impressed the local Conservative MP Stuart Anderson who had spoken of City of Sanctuary in Parliament. Also Desiree – mask maker extraordinaire who has made and distributed hundreds of masks since the first lockdown.

Marie-Lyse from Norwich described the pain of experiencing hostility suffered by people seeking sanctuary when they had come in peace. Dedicated to building welcome, Marie-Lyse then gave an excellent overview of the work in Norwich including Schools of Sanctuary which engaged 100 schools in their Day of Welcome. The Sanctuary University of East Anglia is fully engaged in the local communities and offering empowering sanctuary scholarships. The Arts stream of Sanctuary recently raised £10,000 for local refugee support organisations through auctioning donated art works. Norwich City of Sanctuary’s annual awards ceremony attracts over 100 people and last year the Sheriff of Norwich presented handed out the awards. See her Celebrating Sanctuary NCofS Slides.

After the breakout session where groups shared examples of #Celebrating Sanctuary, connections with media and decision makers, positive stories and welcoming we had a motivating final summary from Jonathan Ellis.

City of Sanctuary has truckloads of inspirational stories reflecting the breadth and diversity of welcome. We know we will step up and ensure these voices from the humane, decent, welcoming and compassionate society are heard. We are stronger together not just across network of groups and streams but with all our partners.