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2021 CoS Conference Report

“Many thanks for these 2 inspiring days – time well spent.” – Kathleen Wallace Sheffield

Nearly 200 people from across the City of Sanctuary networks enjoyed a variety of stimulating sessions at our 2 day online Annual Conference on 22nd and 23rd September. Here we offer videos, notes and slides from some of the key sessions.  Big thanks to outgoing chair Jonathan Ellis, Co Chair of CoS UK: Amani Yahya, Trustee: Richard Williams and Loraine Mponela, member of the CoS UK Operational Advisory Group, Sanctuary Ambassador & CARAG member, for their welcomes and expert chairing.

Please follow links to slides and video recordings for more information on the sessions that interest you and please share with your networks. 

Day 1: 

Video recording of City of Sanctuary UK Conference Day 1 – Our Future Story  – A panel on ‘What does success look like?’ plus a session on the City of Sanctuary strategy 2022-2025

Jonathan welcomed everyone at the opening with a round up of the current landscape including the challenges of the Nationality and Borders Bill, the lack of safe routes to asylum, and highlighted the horrors of offshore processing (aka detention) in the bill. Integration starts on day 1 and it is in our power to speak out and reach more people in defence of a humane, decent asylum system.

Panel Discussion: What does success look like? 

This was a powerful session which included

Satti Collins, Co-Chair of Tees Valley of Sanctuary who called for strong links between the voluntary and statutory sector as reflected in their Training course Improving Mental Health Services for People Seeking Sanctuary aimed at the NHS and other statutory services providers. See CoS MH Presentation Slides.

Faraha Mussanzi, Centre Manager at the Millside Centre, Bradford inspired and motivated by eloquently sharing her story of reaching safety here in the UK and discussed the “three blankets of resilience”.  She went onto describe her feelings of rejection, abandonment, being a burden and not belonging but how facing her fears and support from welcomers turned into a bright future. The chair of Bradford CoS, Will Sutcliffe, said that Faraha’s family was “the jewel in Bradford’s crown”.

Sam Slatcher of Citizen Songwriters reported directly from the street outside The Sanctuary in Sheffield on the 150 people connecting through the Funday Friday programme which offers a variety of online fun group activities including doodling, singing, magic, music, storytelling, mindfulness and crafts. The impact of providing creative space and bringing people together in friendship and belonging was reflected in the amazing video of the Sanctuary Song.

Mamoud Nyelenkeh also shared his experience of the Connect and Create programme, especially the sessions with Displaced Theatre. He said the programme was “a lifeline in lockdown” and how it helped lift the depression of his hopeless situation to feeling useful and welcomed. He shared this wonderful poem Ode to the Voice of Hope PDF  about his struggles. Please read it. 

We also had a surprise meeting CoS Co-Founder CoS Inderjit Bhogal who reminded us of our vision of building a culture of welcome across cities and of sanctuary for all. He encouraged us to continue building networks as our work is as urgent as ever.

City of Sanctuary Strategy 2022-2025 – Revised Charter, Theory of Change & Next steps:

Siân Summers-Rees, Chief Officer City of Sanctuary UK, summarised the work so far and invited input into our strategic thinking from the network. She reminded us that people with lived experience of seeking sanctuary are at the heart of everything we do and the growing vibrant network of Sanctuary Ambassadors was embedded in our work across multiple networks across the UK; at national, devolved, regional and local levels. Our vision speaks to everyone and helps us to engage with wider society. We recognise that no matter how welcoming we strive to be, government policy actively militates against this through the cruel, harsh inhumane asylum system.

“We must continue to speak out and seize the opportunities to do more for an effective and humane system.”

We are working with Together With Refugees for positive change.  Our principles underpin our Theory of Change and we will continue to mobilise support for campaigns – especially against the Borders Bill which goes against everything for which we stand.  City of Sanctuary Strategy 2022-2025 Presentation Slides

“Thank you all for creating a more diverse CoS. It speaks with greater authority through having many with a lived experience. This AGM has been a milestone of progress made.” 

John Mellor, Ripon City of Sanctuary

Networking session:

Aleksandra of TimePeace introduced us to the work of TimePeace – which reflects our principle of creating opportunities for people to build friendship and relationships of solidarity through shared interests. Members of CoS networks were invited to join the TimePeace community . Collaboration and communications are key to interconnectedness and creativity. Staff member Gün Orgun then led the networking session and we all had the opportunity to meet and chat with others in small meeting rooms. Much information was exchanged, and new contacts made.

“Great to meet people in the breakout groups and looking forward to following up contacts and further networking.” 

Christina Bennett,  Swindon City of Sanctuary

AGM Report

See the CoS UK 2021 Minutes here.

Jonathan Ellis – outgoing Chair described 2020 as a “challenging and awesome” year where engagement during lockdown was phenomenal and people with lived experience had more opportunities to raise their voices, inspire and motivate us. We continued to build relationships, set up the unprecedented Local Authority Network – a forum for creative thinking, sharing of experiences and to build political advocacy.  He also paid tribute to the staff team and highlighted the powerful potential of political education for people seeking sanctuary through the Sanctuary in Politics courses.

We loved the thank you video paying tribute to the work and inspiration of  trustees Jonathan Ellis and Pam Inder who stood down this year and welcomed Yusuf Çiftçi and Rebecca Novell as new board members.

The rest of the day was spent in small discussion groups on our future story and how to achieve the changes we aspire to. Stories were heard, excellent practice was shared and pledges on next steps made. Jonathan closed the day which he described as productive and inspiring and told us:

“Please keep doing what you are doing, our country critically needs us to build a welcoming society.”

 Day 2:

Video recording of Day 2 of the City of Sanctuary UK Conference 2021 – panel on mobilising against the Anti-Refugee Bill

 “Thank you everyone. It’s been a fascinating and informative day and great to meet so many wonderful people”  –

Jane Burd, Nottingham CoS

#TogetherWithRefugees Coalition & #AntiRefugee Bill

Ben Jackson, Director Asylum Reform Initiative introduced us to the Together With Refugees campaign against the Nationality and Borders Bill and Mabli Jones, Campaign Manager Wales, Asylum Matters gave us lots of ideas for actions including influencing your MP and working in partnerships. It was important to be clear about the problem of the bill, its cruel nature and it ineffectiveness in resolving issues. It will be more expensive, wasteful of public money and inefficient. We need to explain this to MPs and enable them to hear stories directly from constituents with lived experience. The crisis in Afghanistan has increased sympathy amongst MPs who are more open to conversations with us. MPs from across the political spectrum need our strong message. We can ask them all to write to the Home Secretary on our behalf, as this will require a personal response. Government has responded to strong opposition before. Asylum Matters has a template letter to your local press that you can use.

Mobilising against the #Anti-Refugee Bill:-

Panel Discussion; Events & Activities from across the UK See recording above 

Nicola David, Chair of Ripon COS, presented about their 2 recent campaigning initiatives in partnership with Mary Brandon of Asylum Matters. They sent a letter warning over 170 councillors, LA chief execs and MPS that the Home Office is looking for sites for processing centres, and why it’s in no one’s interest to allow one in their county. They also organised a Nationality and Borders Bill webinar for faith leaders on 28 September, offering resources and opportunities to mobilise, which attracted national attention. The work by Ripon CoS inspired the meeting and we recommend the presentation slides and video.  

“That was SO inspirational.”  Nina Kaye, Epsom Refugee Network

Shams (Samsoudini) Abdou Moussa – Co-Chair of Tees Valley of Sanctuary told us how he has used his lived experience to influence leaders including the Bishop of Durham. Shams has refurbished 116 IT devices and donated to families in need, voluntary work he pointed out he wouldn’t be able to do if he was sent offshore without the opportunity to learn English. People seeking asylum can contribute to their communities and become workers and taxpayers. “They’re killing us, ignoring us, denying us a voice.”

Anna Wardell – Bristol City of Sanctuary talked about reaching out to Conservative MPs with kindness and respect. They have partnered across Bristol and gained considerable press coverage about the Borders Bill, secured over 100 signatories to an open letter and contributed to a series of blogs from the Bristol Refugee and Asylum Seeker Partnership on various issues and sectors affected by the Bill including maternity and mental health.

Barbara Forbes – Birmingham City of Sanctuary told the impressive story of the 50+ strong Schools of Sanctuary network with their enthusiastic, inspiring and committed pupils.  School children are in touch with their MPs and are engaging them from across the political spectrum in understanding the issues and asking them to pass on their letters to the Home Secretary. The #LittleAmal Walk has been a source of inspiration and one school did their own walk with posters and placards collectively covering the distance between Calais and Erdington in Birmingham. They have a local Schools of Sanctuary newsletter and schools are joining in with their own Week of Action in October. This will involve an orange hearts trail through Birmingham and a rally on the 21st October at the Central Library (which aspires to be a Library of Sanctuary). See the Resource pack for schools here. There is also a planned interfaith event in November at the Progressive Synagogue (also about to become a Synagogue of Sanctuary). You can read about the students’ campaigning and efforts around Lift the Ban in the most recent Schools of Sanctuary newsletter:

The panel speakers stimulated wide discussions including the need to contact peers and bishops as members of the House of Lords who can put forward amendments.

“Thanks everyone, that’s been a great discussion!” – Mabli Jones , Asylum Matters 


The afternoon session was focused on the following workshops generating much discussion and enthusiasm.

1. Schools of Sanctuary – with Sara Trewhitt and Megan Greenwood (CoS UK).  SoS Workshop presentation and see the video recording here.

2. Afghanistan Resettlement – with Anna Lancashire, Migration Yorkshire, Wakefield City of Sanctuary and Nikki Walters, Southampton Action. See the video recording here. 

3. Local Authority Network – with Maggie Filipova-Rivers and Maryam Taher  LA Network Workshop slides. See recording here. 

4. Coproduction – How do we improve the participation and engagement of people seeking sanctuary? With Siân Summers-Rees (Chief Officer CoS UK) and Yusuf  Çiftçi, Iman Al-Harithi (Calderdale Valley of Sanctuary) and Ibtisam Farah (Sheffield City of Sanctuary)  Engagement and Participation of people with lived experience presentation slides. Video recording to come.

5. Climate displacement with Ben Margolis,  (Campaign strategist for Bridging Ventures and Co-Director for COP26 Coalition and his colleagues Tess Humble and Cornell Hanxomphoe, Daisy Brookhill (Environmental Justice Foundation, and Hayley Richards, CoS UK.  See the video of the workshop and the petition calling on world leaders to provide climate refugees with international legal status, or protection and protect the most basic human rights.  See also the video Surviving the storms: climate displacement in Bangladesh which was shown in the workshop.

“Thank you so much to all the people who’ve put together, presented and contributed to an inspiring couple of days. Our work continues to excite and challenge us. Thank you from all of us at Swindon City of Sanctuary :)”  Cristina Bennet