SIXTEEN sanctuary seekers across the South West region took part in City of Sanctuary’s Sanctuary in Politics Training course held in Bristol on Friday 14th to 16th December .
The aim of Sanctuary in Politics course is to raise refugee’s voice, educate, engage and empower groups of people seeking sanctuary (refugees and asylum seekers). Day One kicked off with City of Sanctuary Officer, Sian Summers-Rees introducing participants to City of Sanctuary vision, values, work and opportunities available for them to be involved. Sian says: “Our aim is to equip a new generation of leaders to become ‘sanctuary ambassadors’ within the City of Sanctuary network and the wider sanctuary movement.”
This was followed by a brief but very informative and educative political history of the United Kingdom since 1832, which was delivered by City of Sanctuary Vice Chair, Jonathan Ellis. Jonathan provided this overview by citing some of the early developments e.g. the 1689 Bill of Rights, early protests and key political dates, including early campaigning such as Anti-slavery, and campaigns against child labour. Majority of participants were rather surprised to learn that the United Kingdom does not have a codified or written constitution. The statutes passed by Parliament are the supreme and final source of law in the UK, and it follows that Parliament can change the constitution simply by passing new statutes through Acts of Parliament.
Senior Education and Engagement Officer from the Parliamentary Outreach Team, Tomas Williams delivered an introduction to the UK Parliament where he led a session about people, power and parliament. Tomas also talked about proceedings in both the House of Commons and House of Lords including how bills are passed into law and the role of the Queen.
The day ended with a powerful presentation by Bristol City Council Councillor Ruth Pickersgill who talked about the role of a local councillor and what Local Authorities can do to support asylum seekers and refugees. Ruth explained that councillors do not pass any laws but that their work primarily focuses on local issues in their ward and casework. Issues may vary from, housing, rubbish collection, transport, etc. On asylum seekers and refugee issues especially, Ruth pointed out that councillors and/or councils can influence policy change at local, national and international level. Ruth gave the following examples as some of the initiatives that councils can implement e.g. funding refugee groups, community cohesion work, tackling hate crime, disabled asylum seekers, housing and social care casework, Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, schools of sanctuary, education support, and advocacy- tackling destitution.
In a nutshell, Day One, provided participants with an opportunity to have a fair understanding of City of Sanctuary, the political system and ways of political engagement in the UK.
Day Two was devoted to campaigning and advocacy. The day commenced with a session on ‘what is campaigning’, led by Jonathan Ellis. Key to his presentation was that for one or a group to hold a successful campaign, it is important to identify a clear problem and solution and know who has the power to make this change and what influences them. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance to have a burning desire to see policy or practice change. Routes for campaigning could either be through what he described as the ‘Insider Route and or Outsider Route.’ But the choice of routes will be determined by either the organisation’s desired positioning, campaigner’s understanding of external context as well as the influence potential of the target. Jonathan summed up campaigning as Touch, Enthuse and Act (TEA), and that a campaigner must have certain qualities such as a sense of enjoyment.
Asylum Matters Deputy Director, Estelle Worthington and Campaigns Project Manager, Yorkshire & Humberside, Mary Brandon led a session on organising an effective campaign. Participants were put into groups and looked at campaign case studies to spot tactics and feedback to the whole group if those tactics used were effective as well as suggesting if any other tactics could have been used to bolster the campaign. The session also looked at ways on how to influence decision makers. Participants particularly enjoyed the role play of lobbying an MP. Estelle and Mary also led a discussion and activity about issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK and some of the existing campaigns e.g. Lift the Ban.
City of Sanctuary Media & Communications Officer Forward Maisokwadzo led a session on the importance of protecting yourself when campaigning. This is crucial especially during direct campaigns. However, this does not necessarily mean asylum seekers are not supposed to be involved in campaigns.
Day Three finished with a session on working with the media to raise the voice of sanctuary seekers. The MediaWise Director, Mike Jempson gave an overview of the UK mass media and how they operate. How journalists gather news and what makes the news. In summary, participants learned that what makes news is 4Ws + H = Who, What, When, Why and How. Mike talked about news story structures and newspaper readership. He also briefly talked about how the media is regulated in this country and pointed out that verification is important in journalism. Mike additionally, went through how participants can get their message into the media which could be done through press releases, direct interviews, writing letters to the editor etc. He stressed the importance of establishing relationships with journalists and also highlighted different types of journalism e.g. campaign, investigative and the use of photographs.
City of Sanctuary South West Coordinator, Nicola Walters rounded up the training day by leading a discussion about assignments and plans for graduation.
The pilot training in Bristol followed a similar programme that City of Sanctuary delivered in partnership with Preston College in North West. See here for more information about the Preston programme. The two pilots in the UK were inspired by similar courses ran by Places of Sanctuary Ireland.
Below is what some of the participants said about the Residential Weekend Training Course:
It was a really good experience. I bet we all learned something new. I hope everyone gathered some good memories and made new friends. On behalf of all participants and City of Sanctuary Southampton, I want to say special thanks to City of Sanctuary National for conducting such a useful training in a very professional manner. And once again thanks to everyone for making it a great learning experience. – Rana from Southampton
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure as well as eye-opening for me-Baila from Southampton
It was really good to be able to get together and learn and encourage one another. Many thanks for your time and hard work together with your team in the City of Sanctuary movement-J.P from Bristol