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Our History

Established in 2005, City of Sanctuary Sheffield has evolved from an idea of welcome to a diverse movement creating safety and welcome for people seeking sanctuary across the UK.



Today, City of Sanctuary Sheffield continues to work with resilience, agility and joy. For as long as we are needed, we will strive to create a city that is safe and welcoming for all, just as we have done since 2005. 

On the 5th of July, Sheffield City Council unanimously passed a landmark motion re-affirming Sheffield’s status as a City of Sanctuary. They committed to sign the pledge to fight the anti-refugee laws, join the Lift the Ban coalition, install a Migrant Champion in Sheffield City Council, and take both political and practical measures to protect people seeking sanctuary in Sheffield. 

Campaigners outside the Town Hall before the debate took place

Between January and September 2021, we conducted a thoughtful redesign of the entire ground floor of The Sanctuary, our dedicated safe and welcoming space for people seeking sanctuary in the heart of the city. Our vision for The Sanctuary is for it to be a place that is safe, welcoming, beautiful, and joyful. This redesign was a huge step in that direction. 

Redesign plans

Volunteers helping to paint The Sanctuary

As lockdown eased, the Drop- In gradually restarted and The Sanctuary re-opened in autumn 2021. 

“Before it was good, now it is perfect” – The Sanctuary reopens

The Experts by Experience team was established as City of Sanctuary Sheffield works to ensure the participation of people with lived experience of seeking sanctuary within the decision-making and leadership of the organisation.   

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic City of Sanctuary Sheffield adapted how we worked, collaborating with a number of organisations to create a Virtual Sanctuary. The Virtual Sanctuary worked to provide information, advice and referrals remotely and practical support (such as wellbeing and mental health support, homeschool support, food and supplies or assistance with technology) by delivery with the help of volunteers.  

Also this year, a comprehensive review of needs, services and facilities for people seeking sanctuary in Sheffield was commissioned by City of Sanctuary and Sheffield City Council.  The recommendations were able to shape the direction of City of Sanctuary’s work.  

The SPRING Project was launched. A unique collaboration of six organisations helping newly granted refugees with move-on support and ongoing help to settle into the local community.

In 2018, The Sanctuary opened to the public. This was a true tribute to partnership working in the City made possible by the generosity of individuals who in 6 weeks contributed nearly £70,000 enabling City of Sanctuary Sheffield to bid for the Chapel Walk lease.  

Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, and Pride, a CoSS volunteer, officially opening The Sanctuary

In December 2015, the Nothern Refugee Center, an experienced refugee agency in Sheffield, closed due to financial difficulties.  

City of Sanctuary Sheffield coordinated the response by conducting a review of asylum needs in Sheffield, which recommended closer coordination between partner organisations and the creation of a place where people would feel safe and welcome.  

This closure came at a time when Europe was seeing, and responding, to a large influx of Refugees. In Sheffield, there was a great community response and many offers of support such as people offering their spare rooms or donating clothes. City of Sanctuary Sheffield organised a meeting to coordinate support and ensure people were signposted to the appropriate organisations. 

Firth Hall event to coordinate Sheffield’s community response

City of Sanctuary celebrated the achievements of the movement’s first decade in a gathering at Victoria Hall.

Victoria Hall event looking back over the movement’s first decade

City of Sanctuary Sheffield signed ‘The Birmingham Declaration’, a statement of principles and demands agreed upon and launched at the 2014 Sanctuary Summit. 

Over 100 civil society organisations gathered at the first-ever national ‘Sanctuary Summit’.


City of Sanctuary Sheffield took over facilitating the Multi- Agency Drop- In and chairing the monthly ‘Refugee and Migrant Forum’. This was in response to the private security company G4S taking over asylum housing and the Council’s asylum team being disbanded.  

The Clothes Bank

Volunteers at the Drop- In front desk

In 2010, Craig Barnett stepped down as National Coordinator and Inderjit Bhogal as Chair of City of Sanctuary UK. Therefore, the Sheffield committee, and founders of City of Sanctuary Sheffield, handed over the ‘National’ side of their work and City of Sanctuary UK restructured, working to ensuring the grassroots nature and volunteer driven initiatives remained strong.  

Sheffield City of Sanctuary continues to motivate and be motivated by this Movement.

Throughout this time City of Sanctuary Sheffield’s work focused on building the Movement within Sheffield. They worked alongside people who had lived experience of seeking sanctuary to share their stories and encourage groups (such as schools, faith groups and service providers) to sign up to the Sanctuary pledge

Delivering a talk at a Sheffield High School

Delivering a talk at the University of Sheffield

In 2009, an official manifesto was produced in conjunction with Sheffield City Council, setting out key areas for concern and action. 

In November 2009, Sheffield celebrated the signing of its 100th supporting organisation. 

Inderjit and Craig had both felt that Sheffield offically becoming a City of Sanctuary was an incredibly optimistic and long-term goal and therefore had not considered the Movement beyond Sheffield. However, because of the incredible levels of support they had felt within Sheffield, the City of Sanctuary committee began to consult with supporters to develop their goals and outline the criteria for other cities becoming Cities of Sanctuary.  

On 4th June 2008, over 100 people from 23 different Cities, Towns and Villages [from England, Wales and Scotland] met to hear about the work being undertaken in Sheffield. Due to the grassroots nature of this work, and local contexts, the precise dynamics and activities undertaken are different in each place, but each individual was able to take Sheffield’s learnings and explore Sanctuary in their environments. Working groups were established in Bradford, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Oxford and London, involving people and organisations from all backgrounds, building the movement’s support and momentum.    

Today, hundreds of local councils, schools, universities, libraries, theatres and more have been awarded with Sanctuary status, pledging to create a culture of solidarity, inclusivity and welcome. The foundation of this movement is rooted in Sheffield. 

The City of Sanctuary working group set out to enlist the support of a wide range of local groups and organisations, including faith groups, schools and colleges, student unions at the city’s universities, voluntary organisations, community groups, businesses and crucially the local authority. They also organised social events which encouraged connection between different communities and amplified the refugee voices, working to counter the biased media coverage and challenge people’s preconceptions about asylum.  

By 2007, over 70 local organisations had signed the resolution of support.  

On 18th June 2007, during Refugee Week, Sheffield City Council unanimously agreed to support the movement, declaring Sheffield to be the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’.  

 “I am also proud to announce that Sheffield is endorsing the City of Sanctuary Campaign. This gives a commitment to actively welcoming refugees.” Arthur Dungworth, Lord Mayor of Sheffield. June 2007.   

Lord Mayor of Sheffield announces Sheffield is a City of Sanctuary

In 2005, Rev Dr Inderjit Singh Bhogal OBE began exploring an idea of how Sheffield could become a ‘City of Sanctuary’, joining up all the work that was happening across the city, bringing in more mainstream society and creating a city-wide culture of welcome and hospitality for those seeking sanctuary. He imagined this to be similar to how cities which promoted fair trade are recognised as ‘Fairtrade cities’. 

He shared this idea with Craig Barnett, and they began to work on it together. Together they envisioned a city-wide movement of local groups, including the City Council, committed to welcoming and including people seeking sanctuary in the UK. A mainstream movement of support for people seeking sanctuary.  

Craig and Inderjit worked to deliberately re-frame how asylum was being discussed, focusing on their positive vision for the city; one which takes pride in being a place of welcome and safety.  Just as with a ‘Fairtrade City’, they explored developing a set of goals that local organisations which signed up to the initiative could commit to. They felt that if a significant number of schools, community groups, faith groups and cultural organisations, as well as local government, supported their idea there would be a positive welcome and involvement for people seeking sanctuary and these values would be embedded in every aspect of our city.   

On the 15th October 2005, 50 representatives from local organisations met to discuss Sanctuary. Quickly 60 Sheffield organisations adopted the following resolution: 

“Our organisation recognises the contribution of asylum seekers and refugees to the City of Sheffield, and is committed to offering hospitality to people who come here in need of safety from persecution.  We support the goal of Sheffield becoming a recognised City of Sanctuary for asylum seekers and refugees.” 

Sheffield has a deep history of migration and of providing welcome to the people who have come to live here.  

In 1942 Sheffield established a Council of Refugees which supported Jewish Refugees.  

In May 1983 the Northern Refugee Center was established to support Vietnamese Refugees.  

In 2002, a Drop-In Center was established by Sheffield Council in Victoria Hall Methodist Church, working to provide accessible support to people seeking sanctuary. This followed a new national dispersal policy which led to increasing numbers of people seeking asylum being housed in Sheffield. At this time, in collaboration with STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and the Drop-In, the Sheffield Refugee Friendship Group was set up, working to tackle the loneliness felt by people seeking asylum. This later became Sheffield Conversation Club.   

In 2003, the City Council set up an ‘Asylum Seeker Team’ in order to improve support for the city’s asylum and refugee populations. This was later disbanded following the full privatisation of dispersal in 2012. 

In October 2003, ASSIST was established as a charity. They continue to work today providing accommodation, information and support to people who have been refused asylum.   

This support provided, by both ASSIST and the ‘Asylum Seeker Team’, was in response to increasing numbers of people facing homelessness. This was due to the 2002 ban on work for most people seeking asylum being introduced, and accommodation support being removed for people whose asylum claim had been refused by the Home Office.  

In 2004, Sheffield was the first UK city to join the Gateway Protection Programme, offering a legal route for a quota of UNHCR-identified refugees to be resettled in the UK. 

By 2005, there were growing numbers of organisations, communities and individuals committed to welcoming refugees in Sheffield.