This humble story embodies the origin of the Bristol City of Sanctuary. A Bristol City Council official heard about the City of Sanctuary movement at a conference in London where Craig Barnett was talking about how Sheffield became recognised as City of Sanctuary.

She came back and it was discussed at the Refugee Week Steering Committee meeting (Refugee week 2008) and everybody agreed it was an excellent idea that needs to be replicated in Bristol.

To kick start the movement it was suggested to involve Refugee Action, the Multi-Faith Forum and Interfaith groups simply because they have such immediate access to so many communities through faith organisations.

Rev Cassandra Howes, former University of West of England Multifaith Chaplaincy was approached and coincidentally it happens she knew about the impressive work Sheffield had already done which resulted in it being recognised as a City of Sanctuary. Just like many other cities Bristol was also inspired by Sheffield.

The whole movement in the City was ignited after Cass attended a City of Sanctuary meeting in Sheffield- where lots of ideas came from Craig and other Cities working towards having their cities being recognised as City of Sanctuary.

While emails about the idea were doing rounds, June Burrough, Founder and Director of the Pierian Centre agreed for people to meet at the Centre for the first public meeting and subsequent meetings (free of charge) but of course subject to availability of rooms. Besides providing venue for meetings, June also put a lot of energy into it by mobilising support for the idea and did the initial administrative work of Group.

The Group’s first public meeting was held on Thursday 23rd October 2008 at the Pierian Centre. Over 50 people attended. Craig Barnett, National Network Coordinator was the main speaker and he talked about the journey Sheffield had gone through until the time it attained the City of Sanctuary status.

From that meeting a group of about 20 committed people including people from refugee background began to meet and talk about how to take things forward. The Group thanks to a small grant from the Bristol Legacy Commission has managed to recruit Forward Maisokwadzo, as the new part-time Development Worker whose main job purpose was developing and extending the work of the Bristol City of Sanctuary Steering Committee to prepare for the launch of Bristol as a City of Sanctuary on Wednesday 22 June 2011 at Council House and Bristol Cathedral. The group has since had lots of meetings, gathered pledges and continues to mobilise support for the initiative.

On Tuesday 16th November, Bristol City Council voted to give their support to the City of Sanctuary movement in Bristol (the minutes of this meeting are attached below). In doing so, Council agreed to adopt the following statement:

“This Council recognises the contribution of asylum seekers and refugees to the City of Bristol and is committed to welcoming and including them in our activities. The council also recognises that a comprehensive, co-ordinated and forward-looking approach is needed if City of Sanctuary, the welfare of people moving in to the city, and community cohesion between new and existing communities are to be supported effectively. The Council endorses Bristol’s status as a City of Sanctuary and will work to implement the City of Sanctuary pledges through its Community Cohesion Strategy 2010-13.”

In a public show of support, Bristol Refugee Rights along with our other supporters marched from Easton to Council House on College Green holding banners and placards. <!– A webcast of the Full Council meeting can be found here: http://www.bristol.public-i.tv/site/player/pl_compact.php?a=40963&t=&m=f…. For the City of Sanctuary debate, click on index point 7b. BROKEN LINK –>

Having already received pledges of support from over 100 local businesses, faith groups, charities and community initiatives, this is the last of the four criteria we need to meet in order for Bristol to become a recognised City of Sanctuary. This may not seem like much, but it is the first step in getting the Council to seriously consider the impact of their words and actions on a section of society which is often overlooked and under-represented.

The group launched Bristol as a City of Sanctuary on Wednesday 22nd June 2011 at Council House on Bristol’s College Green.