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One year on: How City of Sanctuary stepped up to help Ukraine

Friday marks 1 year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been uprooted from their homes. There are now 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe and a further 5 million people are displaced within Ukraine.

City of Sanctuary will be observing this date to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Our networks have long had the knowledge and infrastucture to provide support and show welcome to people forced to flee. So when the war started, the City of Sanctuary networks were ready to step up. Over the last year, our networks have come together like never before to show support for those most impacted by the war, demonstrating why this movement of welcome is so vitally important.

Click here and help us to continue to welcome Ukrainian people seeking sanctuary.

Throughout the year our programmes leads have provided tailored advice to organisations and instutitions in how they can best welcome, empower and support newly arrived families. Here’s just some of the ways our programmes have stepped up…

Within the first few days, our Schools of Sanctuary programme had released guidance for schools and parents on how best to talk about what was happening in Ukraine. Within the first few weeks, we held a webinar, Supporting Refugees: Responding to the Ukraine Crisis, outlining practical ways in which individuals and groups could support refugees and launched a one-stop shop for information, guidance, training and more. Working with Student Action for Refugees, our Universities of Sanctuary programme released guidance on how universities can help students, academics and institutions affected by the conflict.

After the Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched, we released a statement outlining our concerns with the scheme but pledging to support it. We then held another four more webinars providing support and guidance for both councils and individuals involved with the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Later in the year we held another training webinar for schools, Welcoming Newly Arrived Ukrainian Students – additional support for our Schools of Sanctuary network which was already supporting hundreds of Ukrainian children. From welcome committees and traditional Ukrainian folk events, to additional wellbeing and English language support, after supporting refugee children sometimes for years, these schools were better prepared than most to support these new Ukrainian students.

It was not just schools who rose – and continue to rise – to the ocassion, but also the colleges and universities within our networks. At Keighley College, a College of Sanctuary in Bradford, they set up extra English classes to support new Ukrainian students as well as employing a Ukrainian refugee as part of their employability skills team to support Ukrainians looking for work or courses.

In a collective gesture of solidarity and reciprocity, 21 our awarded Universities of Sanctuary set up partnerships with Ukrainian universities to share resources and give support. Many of these awarded universities have gone on to provide Sanctuary Scholarships to Ukrainian students, like Mansfield College at Oxford University who have launched an inaugural Ukraine Scholarship.

Our Local Authority network has expanded rapidly as councils quickly recognised the valuable resources, learning and collaboration opportunities that the network provides. In the last year, 16 new councils have joined the network. We have supported them every step of the way with regular 1-1 sessions and online webinars.

Libraries of Sanctuary have always been at the heart of any welcoming community, but have again come into their own over the last year; hosting hundreds of welcome events, sign-posting new arrivals to essential services, providing free space for English language lessons and stocking diverse book titles.

We have done all of this on a shoe-string. Click here to help us to keep going.

There are over 120 City of Sanctuary local groups. Collectively they have provided support and welcome to thousands and thousands of people seeking sanctuary. Within weeks of the Russian invasion, many had mobilised to start fundraisers as well as collecting, sorting and shipping donations of supplies to displaced communities.

From large urban centres to small rural locations, City of Sanctuary groups have done everything they can to step up.

To name-check but a few…

Sheffield City of Sanctuary – the UK’s first City of Sanctuary – has provided over 200 foodbank parcels and 200 sim cards, along with clothing and baby supply distributions. Working closely with other local services, they have referred hundreds of newly arrived Ukrainian people into education, employment and mental health support services.

York City of Sanctuary has been working with the City of York Council for a year to build a network of support in the city, helping people to find sponsors. York has had 325 arrivals since the scheme began, and over 180 sponsor hosts. The Ukrainian arrivals are given wrap-around assistance, including English lessons, school and GP enrolment help, plus job and housing advice.

Greenwich Borough of Sanctuary who have set up ESOL classes, hired a Ukrainian caseworker and have launched one-to-one career coaching. After launching a tech appeal, Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees provided phones, laptops and tablets to families in the borough. Working with Global Link, Lancaster and Morecambe City of Sanctuary massively stepped up their ESOL delivery, running ten sessions per week at five different levels.

In the UK’s only Village of Sanctuary, East Hoathly, they have been holding community cohesion events and fundraising to provide small tranches to new arrivals, where Harrogate District of Sanctuary have been supporting famiies in finding private rented accommodation. In the rural community of East Lindsey Area of Sanctuary, they created a network of hosts to offer support with the process of visa applications and the reality of hosting and in May 2022, they opened a Welcome Club drop-in.

All these services and support provisions have been alongside tireless campaigning about the flaws to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, against the Nationality and Borders Act and the Rwanda plan.

Since our formation in 2005, we have been working to build a movement of welcome across the UK for people seeking sanctuary. The last year has demonstrated like never before why this movement of welcome is so vitally important.