City of Sanctuary (UK)

City of Sanctuary is a charity supporting a network of groups across the UK and Ireland working to build a culture of welcome and hospitality within their communities. Although this welcome spreads to anyone who may need it, this movement mainly looks at the inclusion of asylum seekers and refugees. They celebrate the skills refugees and asylum seekers bring with them and provide a platform for their engagement with their locality and for their voices to be heard.[1] They are a movement built by the grassroots, from the communities who wish to change things where they are, rather than a top down approach.


City of Sanctuary began in the city of Sheffield in Yorkshire in 2005 by Craig Barnett and Inderjit Bhogal. In 2007, with the support of the City Council and over 70 local community organisations, Sheffield became the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’ – "a city that takes pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety."[2][3] With the success of Sheffield, the movement then spread, with cities such as Leeds, Hull[4] and Swansea starting their own groups to try and create an atmosphere where the refugees and asylum seekers living there could feel welcomed. As the movement grew, City of Sanctuary became a registered charity, helping to spread the movement and to connect groups to support one another. By early 2015 there were around 30 groups across the UK and Ireland, and the organisation had built a Sanctuary Alliance with other notable organisations in the UK sector, such as Refugee Council, British Red Cross, Refugee Action, Student Action for Refugees and many more. They had successfully pulled off an event in parliament, Sanctuary in Parliament, which allowed refugees and asylum seekers to share their stories in the place decisions are made, and to invite their MPs to come and listen and talk to them. They had also been a major part of organising the Sanctuary Summit in 2014, where The Birmingham Declaration was written.

In September 2015, when the picture of Aylan Kurdi hit the media, City of Sanctuary was overwhelmed with new groups[5] of people wishing to help in the refugee crisis which was now so apparent. The charity was chosen to be included in the 2015 Guardian Christmas Appeal,[6] and over the next few months the movement grew to include over 60 groups . Rather than just being cities, there were now groups springing up in towns, villages, valleys, boroughs,[7][8] counties and places of all sorts.

At the time of writing there are well over 80 groups, all committed to trying to spread a culture of welcome where they are, however they can.

Streams of Sanctuary

City of Sanctuary has "Streams" of Sanctuary which different groups can engage in. These groups link people and organisations around a particular theme, supporting professionals working in that sector to embed the concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion as well as share best practice, resources and ideas. This is happening in areas like Schools,[9][10] Colleges,[11] Universities,[12][13][14] Local Authorities,[15] Health, Maternity, Faiths[16] and Arts.[17][18][19] Anyone can set up a Stream of Sanctuary in any area to help progress welcome and inclusion for asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable newcomers."[20]

Sanctuary Awards

The Sanctuary Awards recognise and celebrate the organisations who go above and beyond to welcome people seeking sanctuary. Any community group, private organisation, public sector service or other bodies which contribute towards the vision of welcome can apply for the award. They are an opportunity to celebrate and share good practice as well reflect on how things can be improved within a sector.

In 2015 the first "Sports Club of Sanctuary" was awarded to a table tennis club in Brighton.[21]

In 2016 the first "Theatre Company of Sanctuary" was awarded to Stand Up and Be Counted.[22]

In 2017 the first "Festival of Sanctuary" was awarded to Journeys Festival.[23]

In 2021 the first "Art Gallery of Sanctuary" awarded to Glynn Vivian gallery in Swansea.[24]

Birmingham Declaration

At the Sanctuary Summit in 2014, people from across the UK refugee sector came together to sign an promote the Birmingham Declaration. Please see below for the full declaration.

Britain has a long tradition of offering protection to those fleeing persecution, many of whom have gone on to make a considerable contribution to our society. It also has a reputation for fairness and justice that is the envy of many other nations.

We believe that the great majority of British people are sympathetic towards those who come here seeking help and protection. The position of refugees and migrants is being aggravated in Europe and in Britain in an unprecedented way. We can no longer just watch in silence as millions flee Syria and other war zones only to be warehoused in refugee camps and thousands drown in desperate attempts to reach the Western world across the sea. This is a matter of life and death. We commit ourselves to work together to ensure that our great country continues to be a safe place for those fleeing persecution and a welcoming place for all people who come here to study, work or join family and who will work alongside us to build a just and fair society. We commit ourselves today to a core set of principles and asks that will strengthen our collective efforts to protect the rights of strangers amongst us. Through these commitments we seek accountability and justice. We are asking our Parliament and our Government to take necessary steps to deliver that change. These commitments tackle the causes and consequences of the very vulnerable position refugees and migrants find themselves in. They are within the scope of the international protection framework that Britain has been signatory to for decades. Recognising that we all have a role to play, we are asking our Government to do all they can to ensure that:

1. All asylum seekers, refugees and migrants should be treated with dignity and respect. All asylum seekers, refugees and migrants should be treated with dignity and respect. We ask that the debate on immigration is conducted with care for the dignity of people who are vulnerable, who do not have a voice in the public domain and who have to suffer the consequences of inaccurate and inflammatory language. We appeal to all politicians and to the media to conduct the asylum debate responsibly, sticking to the facts and bearing these principles in mind.

2. A fair and effective process to decide whether people need protection should be in place. We ask for a high standard of decision making on refugee protection cases. After years of very public failure, we demand a system that is fair and efficient and ensures protection for those who need it. People should have access to good quality legal advice and representation during the process, publicly funded when they are unable to pay. Not everyone is entitled to refugee status in Britain, but they are entitled to a fair process to determine if they are in need of protection.

3. No one should be locked up indefinitely. We seek an end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants. No one should be deprived of their liberty with no judicial oversight. Indefinite detention is unacceptable, costly and ineffective. We ask for a reasonable time limit to be introduced and other safeguards put in place to ensure the lawfulness and fairness within the system.

4. No one should be left sick or destitute in our society. It cannot be right that people are left destitute in modern Britain, banned from working but denied support. Until they are granted protection and can work, asylum seekers should receive sufficient support to meet their essential living needs while in the UK. We are asking that those whose cases have taken more than six months to resolve, or who have been refused but are unable to return home, should receive permission to work. All of them should be allowed free access to NHS services

5. We should welcome the stranger and help them to integrate. People should integrate, and we should help them to do so. We are asking for support for asylum seekers to be welcomed and befriended on arrival. To help them integrate and participate in the local community they should be able to learn English, with free tuition provided where needed.

We make a commitment to take action on these principles and asks together and translate them into collaborative actions in our organisations and communities locally and nationally.

We commit ourselves to work strategically together. We will come back next year to check our progress against these principles and asks and make plans for what needs to be done in the future, together. Below are the first of what we believe will be hundreds of organisations signing this declaration.

This declaration has been signed by over 250 different organisations.[25]

Sanctuary in Parliament

From 2014 - 2018, City of Sanctuary has hosted an event in parliament with the help of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. This is an event which invites refugees and asylum seekers from across the UK to meet with their MP and to let their voices be heard in Westminster. Speakers engage from across the refugee sector, and MPs come from all parties to listen to their constituents. The themes of the sessions are related to the biggest issues in the asylum system that year as well as further afield.


  1. "From lost and lonely to safe and busy: the refugees helped by City of Sanctuary". the Guardian. 2015-12-26. Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  2. "Little Amal: Sheffield crowds welcome 'refugee' puppet". BBC News (in British English). 2021-10-29. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Campbell, James (2021-11-16). "Hull City of Sanctuary: Refugee's fears for family back in Afghanistan". HullLive. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  5. "City of Sanctuary: Bristol rallies to help refugees as aid network swells". the Guardian. 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  6. "We Stand Together: the Guardian and Observer charity appeal continues". the Guardian. 2015-12-25. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  7. "Cheshire West to become borough of sanctuary for refugees". Northwich Guardian. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  8. "Lewisham to become Borough of Sanctuary for refugees – Eastlondonlines". Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  9. "City of Sanctuary: how Paddington Bear is helping pupils welcome refugees". the Guardian. 2015-12-06. Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  10. "North Belfast primary school celebrating diversity as School of Sanctuary". ITV News. 2021-11-26. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  11. "College of Sanctuary honour for Gower College Swansea". FE News (in British English). 2021-08-31. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  12. Bristol, University of. "September: University of Sanctuary | News and features | University of Bristol". (in British English). Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  13. "University of Exeter". Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  14. Hare, Susan (2021-11-22). "The University of Stirling is trying to become a 'University of Sanctuary'". Brig Newspaper (in American English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  15. "Signing up to the City of Sanctuary Local Authorities Network | Local Government Association". Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  16. "Cathedral of Sanctuary-Our Journey". Christ Church Cathedral Dublin (in American English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  17. "Leicester museum honoured for welcoming the persecuted". 2021-02-17. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  18. House, Hebden Bridge Picture. "Cinema of Sanctuary". Hebden Bridge Picture House (in British English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  19. Gregory, Rhys (2021-11-25). "Glynn Vivian becomes first UK Art Gallery of Sanctuary" (in American English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 September 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. "UK first for Sanctuary Club Brighton".
  22. "SBC THEATRE". SBC THEATRE (in British English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  23. "The first festival of sanctuary - Journeys Festival International". journeysfestival. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  24. Gregory, Rhys (2021-11-25). "Glynn Vivian becomes first UK Art Gallery of Sanctuary" (in American English). Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  25. "The Birmingham Declaration | Sanctuary Summit 2014". 2014-11-15. Retrieved 2016-12-16.

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