Around 200 people packed into Victoria Hall for a special event to celebrate the first decade of the City of Sanctuary movement. After words of welcome from the Chair of City of Sanctuary Sheffield, Mike Reynolds, founder Inderjit Bhogal reminded everyone of how it all started, with a conversation between himself and Craig Barnett. At that time, Craig said they shared a vision that “One day even the Sheffield Star will care about refugees.” Now, he held up a copy of The Star with precisely that headline. He referred to watering the seed of compassion and welcome and how this nurturing has made the vision grow into a reality.
The Lord Mayor, Councillor Talib Hussain spoke of Sheffield’s pride in being Britain’s first City of Sanctuary, before handing out awards to some of the volunteers who’re helping to make it a reality. Inderjit referred to the thousands of people working towards making Sheffield a place of sanctuary, safety and welcome for all. We have lost count of the number of cities and towns, boroughs and villagers who now share the vision of building a culture of welcome, he said. But we can do more. “We can say to our government we can do more.” In Lebanon – one in 4 people are refugees. This is the challenge we have to raise when we talk to our MPs. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we have the power to do more. In Italy, churches are coming together to create safe and legal routes to come here. We can provide humanitarian visas to come and find a warm welcome in Europe. We have to suspend the Dublin rule.
City of Sanctuary’s national co-ordinator, Tiffy Allen referred to the extraordinary fact that City of Sanctuary was taking off and capturing hearts and imaginations. The recent “revolution of generosity” was overwhelming, she said. It defied all superlatives. The crisis was unimaginable and heartbreaking and the greatest in history. But hundreds and thousands of people were rising up and demanding welcome and safety. “This is an important moment in history. We need to talk to people in schools, in health centres, on buses. We cannot let this outpouring of concern go by. We need to ask everybody what are you going to do. Every single one of you is vital to the movement.”
Tiffy said it was a privilege it is to come to Sheffield. She shared the vision where every part of society was hallmarked with welcome, like a Blackpool stick of rock wherever you look – theatre, football, schools, universities all places of sanctuary “all the way through”. She also referred to ‘Sanctuary in Parliament’, when City of Sanctuary groups from all over the country take their message to MP’s and Peers. Last year a group of young people from Sheffield came to Westminster to talk about schools of sanctuary and impressed members of Parliament and others in the sanctuary movement. This year’s themes include a demand for safe and legal routes and an end to destitution and an end to detention.
Speakers from partner organisations working for sanctuary in Sheffield echoed the importance of everyone working together under the banner of City of Sanctuary. Akoi Bazzie, who came here under the UN resettlement scheme reminded us that Sheffield was the first city to host the Gateway Programme, for which he now works. The vision behind the Gateway scheme works hand-in-hand with practical action, he said. City of Sanctuary provides sanctuary not just for refugees but for all of us. Sanctuary is what drives us all to do what we do.
Gina Clayton of ASSIST, Ralph Hancock of the Conversation Club and Paul Harvey from the Volunteer Centre illustrated the different ways the word ‘Sanctuary’ gives meaning in the city – transforming attitudes and enabling us to see others as people. Fear and hatred damage everyone. City of Sanctuary is there to challenge and this is why it is so important to provide a place free of prejudice and to free people from prejudice. Face-to-face encounters transform people.
Inderjit warned that the recent outpouring of concern and compassion and might not last, but that the relationships we build now will last and that it is crucial for us to continue to maintain critical services for asylum seekers such as advice, teaching English, etc. “It is relationships and friendships that change hearts and minds and we need to focus on helping people get to know each other and find creative ways to connect, because we never forget people.” He concluded with the words:
Always challenge hatred”
Photo: Inderjit, Craig, the Lord Mayor & Tiffy hold hands in the image of the City of Sanctuary symbol
for Sheffield City of Sanctuary’s Tenth Anniversary October 2015
Recall the welcomes you’ve received – the time
you trudged into a town where even bricks and glass
called you ‘stranger’, shutters slammed and flowers shivered,
stray cats turned their backs and no-one spoke your tongue.
Your pack the weight and awkwardness of coal,
night coming on, the mocking rain, and each step numb.
Doubt growled ‘Go home!’ but home had gone. Recall
as the light shrank, a door cracked open on the
muttered shadows of a room, a glass of amber tea,
a wary beckoning. They looked as scared as you,
suspicious of your clothes, your stammered thanks;
then you glimpsed a child’s face, a game of peek-a-boo
and though you were chilled through, you smiled,
bread was laid out, you sat between the granny
and the youngest with a cracked plate on your lap.
A corner cleared for sleep, your journey eased away
and dawn broke on the bloom of a new day.
Think of the times when those you’d never see again
brought water, wished you well or pointed out the way,
when the earth itself seemed to invite you as a chosen guest
to walk on summer lanes, lean your head against a tree
or float your weary limbs in peaceful bays.
Harvest these memories, for what is safety, refuge, rest
unless freely passed on to others when our brief lives meet.
May we become the welcomes we’ve received,
and may the call for sanctuary Sheffield’s begun
grow loud, till every darkened street rings out with
‘Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.’
– River Wolton