After some six months of behind-the-scenes activity, the working group responsible for Hull’s City of Sanctuary initiative went public on 18th June 2010, when some 120 people attended an evening of celebration, music and food, to mark the official launch.
The Rev Barbara Routley, minister of Princes Avenue Methodist church (which runs the weekly Open Doors drop-in) welcomed one of Hull’s three MPs, Ms Diana Johnson, among several high profile guests from the various organisations working in Hull for refugees and asylum seekers. The Rev Inderjit Bhogal, former President of the Methodist Conference and national Chair of the City of Sanctuary movement, spoke about the movement’s origins, and about the powerful resonances in Hull with William Wilberforce, once Hull’s MP.
The Chair of the working group, Emeritus Professor Peter Campion, called on two primary school girls, one from North Africa and one from the Middle East, to welcome the 120 guests, “We welcome you all to our party – thank you for coming”. There was spontaneous applause and the many guests warmed to the occasion, which included interviews with asylum seekers now settled in Hull, a talk from Inderjit about the roots of the notion of places of sanctuary, as illustrated by the creation in the Old Testament of cities of sanctuary. Then sanctuary was provided for centuries by the churches and cathedrals of England, as in the adjacent town of Beverley, with its Minster and a one mile radius area set out by sanctuary crosses, where those in danger of life and limb could find sanctuary.
There was food and music and colourful exhibitions of clothing from different parts of the world, set up by the Goodwin Trust. ‘Landmarks of Hull’ were celebrated in photographs taken by an ESOL tutor who helps newcomers in their study of English. The team planning and working in the launch event included many who are either still seeking asylum (but long delayed in the process) or who have been given leave to remain and have settled in Hull.
The support for Hull City of Sanctuary is wide and illustrated by the involvement of people from many different faith gourps, and across a wide range of organisations, both statutory and voluntary, including the City Council, the local police force, several major sports clubs, the Refugee Council, the Northern Refugee Centre, ARKH (Asylum seekers and refugees in Kingston upon Hull), the Goodwin Trust, the British Red Cross, and the NHS.
Funding has come by direct grants from the Hull City Council, the National Health Service, the Goodwin Trust, and the Refugee Council. Supporters are also making personal donations. The Hull and East Riding Interfaith group have also expressed support and interest through the response of its members to information shared with their meeting.
During the evening 27 groups or individuals signed forms to commit to supporting Hull City of Sanctuary, which was an excellent start to our target of having over 100 groups, organisations and other bodies signed up.
The hope of Hull City of Sanctuary is that there will be united action in the City and environs to confirm the good things already happening, and to encourage every citizen and organisation to become an agent of welcome and hospitality to strangers, who will find Hull a safe place to be, and to stay, as leave to remain in the U.K. is granted.