City of Sanctuary Sheffield (COSS) is leading an exciting new initiative to create a Welcome Centre for asylum seekers and refugees. We have started moving into the premises on Chapel Walk, and hope to be ready to launch the first phase of operations by the end of September. Watch this space for further developments.
The Welcome Centre will be a bright and vibrant place where asylum seekers and refugees can come for information, advice and support. It will be somewhere people feel safe, whatever their race, religion, sexuality, status, political opinion or mental or physical ability.
It will be an open door through which new arrivals can come to chat, meet local people, use a computer, have a cup of tea, read the paper, or simply sit and keep warm.
The need for such a place became urgent at the end of 2015 when Northern Refugee Centre ceased operating. COSS and partners commissioned a Needs Review which highlighted a gap in the city for a single place where asylum seekers could go when they need help. The review and a subsequent focus group of interested parties including asylum seekers and refugees found an additional need for somewhere destitute asylum seekers could go to keep warm, use a shower and just be themselves.
Who will benefit
Asylum seekers and refugees will be the primary beneficiaries, especially those who are destitute. Support agencies will have a central place for confidential consultations, with comfortable waiting area. Service providers and support organisations will know there is a single place to refer people needing help. International students and other new arrivals to the city may also be able to access information and advice.
The wider community will benefit from having a centre of expertise, knowledge and personnel in the field of asylum.
The project will grow incrementally and we hope the main ground floor area will become a place where members of the public can come for a cup of coffee and chat with members of the international community.
Phase One – preparation & launch
The ground floor will be fitted out so it can be used for a walk-in signposting facility with a secure reception and confidential interview booth for private consultations. The rest of the space will be designed for relaxation and light refreshments. There will be easy chairs, and tables arranged ‘cabaret style’. Free wi-fi will be provided, with a couple of computers for general use.
Out of office hours the facility may be used for meetings and for activity or support groups, such as Early Asylum Support, ‘move-on’ advice, mental health and art therapy.
The first floor will be fitted out with six confidential interview booths and a similar number of hot desks for office use.
Phase Two – developing a social space
The central area of the basement may be used during Phase One for occasional meetings, or ESOL classes. However before it can be fully utilised it requires tanking to eliminate damp.
If funds can be raised to do this, we will proceed to develop the basement to address some of the other needs that asylum seekers, particularly those who are destitute, have identified.
This includes computer suite, clothes store, women’s room, showers, prayer room, table tennis etc.
The building will be managed by City of Sanctuary Sheffield, assisted by an advisory group including representatives from partner organisations such as ASSIST, British Red Cross, Citizen’s Advice, Voluntary Action Sheffield, South Yorkshire Refugee Law & Justice, asylum seekers and refugees.
It will be staffed by existing COSS staff and volunteers, plus an Advice Manager and others as funding becomes available.
We have secured sufficient funding to see the project through the first 12 months, and are now in the process of applying to charitable trusts to continue beyond this.
An additional sum will also be required to complete the fitting out of the basement.
If you would like to donate towards this exciting project please go to the Welcome Centre Pledge page