At City of Sanctuary Sheffield, we know that a resilient and hopeful staff and volunteer team is the foundation of our work. This team is the soil from which everything we do grows and as such it needs supporting and nurturing.
This is a challenge – policy twists and turns that have a direct impact on the ground, combined with a lack of services after years of cuts and the burnout culture that pervades small community organisations means that we are fighting an uphill battle.
Over the years, in response to this, we have developed the City of Sanctuary Sheffield Psychology Volunteer Team, spearheaded by a small group of clinical psychologists, to help us build and sustain a resilient staff and volunteer team, and a safe and hopeful organisational culture.
Therefore, the Psychology Volunteer Team are sharing some of the pioneering work they are doing. We are very grateful to have them and will continue to shout from the rooftops about the importance of this kind of work across the movement.
Tom, Director, City of Sanctuary Sheffield
We are a small group of qualified Clinical Psychologists who work voluntarily into City of Sanctuary Sheffield. We all have different roles within CoSS, and in addition come together to form a CoSS Psychology team. Our hope is that, through supporting the resilience of the team and the psychological mindedness of the organisational culture, we can support CoSS to be a safe and hopeful organisation and to sustain their incredible work with asylum seekers and refugees in the face of the hostile environment.
- Tina Ball was a Trustee at CoSS and is now volunteering with the advocacy and system change volunteer team
- Helen Wigglesworth is part of the CoSS Staff Team
- Jane Barton volunteers at CoSS’ weekly multi agency drop-in on the Health & Wellbeing desk
The asylum system and the charity sector can be challenging spaces to work. Therefore, we work to support confidence and resilience in City of Sanctuary Sheffield’s staff and volunteers, support other partner organisations to develop similar emotional reflective support and expand awareness and support for the mental health needs of refugees and people seeking asylum.
Our core aim is to support the organisational wellbeing of City of Sanctuary Sheffield. Working to ensure the charity is confident and ‘joyfully resilient’ in in the face of hostile and ever-changing policies and systems.
The volunteers and staff at City of Sanctuary Sheffield encounter trauma on a daily basis, as they work to support people who have both experienced trauma in the past and continue to face trauma through the hostile environment. This therefore carries risks including compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and the re-traumatization of staff and volunteers with lived experience. We have found that engaging with psychological input has improved staff and volunteer confidence, and feelings of safety and support.
In facing the hostile environment created by current government policies and systems, CoSS stands in the face of multiple challenges, including limited resources, the loss and bereavement of volunteers with lived experience being moved to different cities, and vicarious trauma from the narratives we support. It is crucial that as an organisation we focus on our team wellbeing, providing protective factors against these challenges, so that we can offer sustainable support to those seeking sanctuary.
We offer staff training (e.g. around de-escalation, particular mental health conditions, boundaries and trauma-informed working), regular wellbeing sessions, and have a psychologist attending staff meetings and away days, in order to support confidence, resilience and wellbeing within the staff team.
Volunteers at COSS are invited to attend a 6-weekly reflective practice forum, facilitated by one of the clinical psychologists. This is an opportunity to reflect on the emotional impact of the volunteering work that we all do. We offer volunteers training in boundaries (called “Managing Tricky Situations”) and in trauma-informed working.
A number of voluntary sector agencies have expressed a need for some input and support around managing the emotional impact of their work. Therefore, we have facilitated training, individual supervision, and Reflective Practice sessions for their staff.
We are currently exploring how this support could be provided more widely and longer term. We are exploring partnerships with other qualified psychologists with an interest in working into the voluntary sector, as well as the Sheffield branch of the organisation “Psychologists for Social Change”, and also the Clinical Psychology Unit (CPU) at Sheffield University. Our ambition is that through these partnerships, emotional reflective support can be offered to a number of voluntary sector agencies within Sheffield, as we are doing at City of Sanctuary Sheffield.
City of Sanctuary Sheffield's mission is to facilitate sanctuary across the city, advocating and campaigning to improve best practise and defend the rights of people seeking. Developing strong working partnerships across the movement is vital to our success.
Refugees and people seeking asylum have complex emotional needs and mental health requirements. If we think of the umbrella picture above, separate to any traumas those seeking sanctuary may have faced which led to them travelling to the UK, once here the hostile environment subjects them to uncertainty, hardship, isolation and re-traumatisation. However, those seeking sanctuary currently do not have an umbrella; their mental health needs are currently not understood nor is support provided for asylum seekers by mental health providers.
We have a number of threads on the go aimed at expanding awareness, and improving support, within mental health professions of the emotional and mental health needs of refugees and people seeking asylum.
We have further strengthened our links with the Clinical Psychology Training Course and Talking Therapies training course at The University of Sheffield and are meeting regularly to ensure that the needs of refugees and people seeking asylum are well represented and taught about within these training courses.
We are in the process of setting up another specialist clinical placement for a Clinical Psychology Trainee, to be based at the Sanctuary for 12 months from October.
We have also been connecting with statutory mental health providers in Sheffield to try to facilitate greater access to psychological therapies for refugees and people seeking asylum. Meetings and conversations have taken place with Talking Therapies (previously known as IAPT -one of the main primary care providers of psychological therapies in Sheffield), with further planned.
Our aim is to work with IAPT to:
Ensure smooth access to IAPT services for our client population.
Reduce any discriminatory practice that might restrict access.
Look at ways of increasing awareness of services on offer, e.g. IAPT periodically attending the Wednesday drop-in to promote their services.
Ensure awareness of, and smooth access to, specialist Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) within the IAPT service, for those asylum seekers and refugees most in need. NET therapy is a psychological treatment for survivors of multiple traumatic events and who are suffering from PTSD.
There are many instances when lawyers representing asylum seekers feel that having a medical report which comments on the emotional impact of the trauma experienced, and the person’s subsequent mental health, would greatly help an individual’s claim. Unfortunately, there is no organised facility within Sheffield, nor in the wider Yorkshire region, for such reports to be commissioned and undertaken.
We have been working to try to establish such a service for Sheffield. This venture is still in the early stages, but what we hope to establish is:
A centralised hub within Sheffield to act as a co-ordination centre for medico legal report requests. This would be independent of COSS. So far we have had exploratory conversations with an independent psychological therapies agency within Sheffield, which could potentially form this MLR Hub.
A database of registered practitioners to undertake medico legal reports to support local lawyers.
We are currently liaising with, and learning from, other organisations nationally (including the Helen Bamber Foundation and Freedom from Torture) around developing a Service, providing training & support for report writers and exploring avenues of funding. Our hope is to support with setting up this hub and then allow others to lead this project.
We have lots of hopes and plans for the future of this work. Some upcoming activities include:
Linking with local GPs and health commissioners to explore the health inequalities of asylum seekers and refugees living in Sheffield
Linking with a local community activist group - Psychologists for Social Change
Upcoming training for IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), now also known as “Talking Therapies”, around the challenges faced by Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Thank you for reading. We will send out future updates about our work as we continue to support the wellbeing of City of Sanctuary Sheffield staff and volunteers, and advocate for access to mental health care for people seeking sanctuary.
Tina, Helen and Jane