YORK CITY OF SANCTUARY 

Annual General Meeting: 7.30 pm – 9.00 pm; Tuesday 17th January 2017

The Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York

  1. Welcomes  
  2. Apologies 
  3. Notes from December 2015 AGM were circulated and agreed as an accurate record of that meeting.
  4. Report from the Chair    A summary of what Don Phillips said:

It’s been quite a year nationally and internationally. But for York City of Sanctuary it has been a year of development.  Perhaps most importantly, we became recognized nationally on 1st October; The Lord Mayor, the Sheriff and the MP for York Central were present for the all-day regional meeting.

And we have evolved.  We have continued to work on what might be called casework – helping individual asylum seekers and refugees forward.  This work is becoming increasingly difficult.  Home Office has fixed failure rates regardless of circumstances.  The process is Kafkaesque – without specialist legal advice, travel fees, often interim accommodation and provisions, an asylum seeker has a hopeless task, frequently finding him or herself on the streets in one of our large surrounding cities.

We have continued to work with our council friends in settling in the few designated Syrian refugees who are coming to live in York.  We have assisted with applications to the Asylum Support programme.

And – as we said we would – we have cast our eyes further afield, as befits a relatively opulent, city of sanctuary.  Primarily through the initiative and energy of Annie and William we have made many trips to Middlesbrough and Bradford with carloads of much needed provisions.  The circumstances in which our brothers and sisters are expected to live, when housed by the Home Office Asylum Support programme have shocked us.  Run down properties and a total lack of means of support is not uncommon.

We have produced our own Equality, Child Protection and Volunteer training documentation. We have also recruited and trained a vibrant group of hosts and befrienders to enable folk for these surrounding areas to spend a day or two in York.

So York City of Sanctuary has developed to become a regional resource

We have rationalised our website – now part of the national CoS site.  See https://york.cityofsanctuary.org

Also Kate has set up a Facebook Page.  Both these are regularly updated and are becoming a village pump of information exchange about human rights and refugee issues.  Please contribute to these – on Facebook just type in York City of Sanctuary and ask to join.

So what of the future?  We have shown that we have a lot of benevolent willing friends in York wanting to get involved.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that 58% of York voted to remain in the EU.  I am convinced that volunteers – we are all volunteers – work best within projects they have helped to create.  The past year has proven this. So, it’s up to you – what do you want to do?  Think of an idea.  Discuss it with us.  Get it on the road.

5 Annual Report from Co-ordinator; a summary of what Paul Wordsworth said:

Receiving national recognition as a City of Sanctuary had taken four years of hard work.  A facsimile of the plaque that was received by the City of York Council in December 2016 was shared.  This achievement is not the end of a journey, but just the beginning.

Regional summary

There are large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in surrounding conurbations, for example Huddersfield, Rotherham, Hull, Middlesbrough, and Bradford.  Up to a thousand asylum seekers are to be found in some of these locations.  These cities have some of the cheapest rented accommodation in the North of England which is why the companies with asylum seekers housing contracts choose to place them there.  Often there is hardly any furniture. Families often lack basic equipment such as cooking utensils. Clothes and shoes are required.

This contrasts with York itself which currently has relatively few asylum seekers: the lack of spare social housing and the high rental costs mean that it is not profitable to place asylum seekers here.

Case work in York

York City of Sanctuary works with individuals and families, and 16 cases have been taken up in the past year.  Achieving refugee status is a long arduous process taking many months and a successful outcome is by no means guaranteed.  The majority of people who, while in York, find themselves having to seek asylum here originally came as students.

Everybody who applies for leave to remain in the UK has to attend an initial Home Office interview at Croydon.  All family members must attend, including children. There is no financial provision for such costly travel. Specialist legal advice is a necessity these days, so York City of Sanctuary supplies travel and pays for legal advice.  It is not unusual for a family to be at the office in Croydon from 8.30 am – 5.30 pm.

Some months later, a second more detailed interview takes place at Leeds, which many of our clients find much more of an interrogation, with many questions being asked again and again. More waiting follows, before the decision is given by the Home Office. We assist our clients by accompanying them to meetings with lawyers beforehand, to assist them in preparing their case. The travel costs to meetings in Leeds and elsewhere are also met.

Under the direction of the previous Home Secretary, the Government introduced a policy of creating a UK environment which is hostile to immigration. There is clear evidence of that policy at work. The process of seeking asylum in the UK causes sufficient un-necessary suffering and hardship in order to dissuade people from applying, or coming here at all.

Working with others in the city 

York City of Sanctuary has active links with the group planning the annual Holocaust Memorial programme .  We seek to make the connections between the historic plight of refugees fleeing for their lives from Nazi organized genocide, and those who currently are seeking to find a safe haven from war and the associated crimes against humanity.

York City of Sanctuary is represented in the group seeking to make York the first Human Rights City in the United Kingdom.  There are of course other local agencies we are working closely with such as RAY (Refugee Action York). Our management group also has representatives from York Racial Equality Network and York Inter Faith Group, and we hear updates of each other’s work on a regular basis.

We enjoy the hospitality of North Yorkshire Police at Fulford Police Station when we have our management meetings. Assistant Chief Constable Lisa Winward has been a member of the group since the very earliest days of our formation, and we congratulate her on her recent promotion.  York based Commander Adam Thomson is also invited to attend our meetings to enable this important link to continue.

York City of Sanctuary has assisted the City of York Council in its involvement with the government’s scheme to bring a limited number of vulnerable Syrian refugees to the UK. A small number of families have settled in York over the past 18 months. There are indications that the scheme, announced by David Cameron, is losing some momentum. Similarly the government commitment to take unaccompanied refugee children into the UK, particularly those with relatives in this country, is not meeting the targets promised.

New initiatives

You have heard something already about our developing partnership with Middlesbrough and Bradford, and Annie will share more about that later in the meeting. It is exciting to see how we can be involved in giving real encouragement and much needed support to other agencies in our region.

Refugees and asylum seekers living here can have a difficult time learning our language.  It remains a key to their accessing work, education, and being able to integrate in the local community. There are already a number of well- established and new initiatives to assist the learning of English in York, and we are currently piloting a project to assist children with home learning, in conjunction with their local school.

Into the future

York City of Sanctuary will endeavour to offer hope and support to those with whom it works.  We have seen some excellent outcomes to cases this past year, and know that those who gain leave to remain in the UK will enrich our common life with their gifts and talents. We will monitor the welcome and hospitality that is given in this city to those in need of Sanctuary so that our new found status continues to be deserved.

5a. Introduction from John Tomlinson, Theatre of Sanctuary:

John told us that he is currently a senior manager at York Theatre Royal.

He has been greatly inspired by a refugee, Emily, who worked with John’s production company, Strawberry Blonde Curls to create the drama “Tanya” about Yarl’s Wood.  A short section of the play was performed at the regional City of Sanctuary meeting held in York in 2016, when York received City of Sanctuary status.  John is seeking to work closely with York City of Sanctuary, and to make the theatre a community hub for all residents, including refugees, as well as refugees from surrounding cities.

6  Presentation of Annual Accounts April 2015- March 2016; having been independently examined and signed.  Introduced by Michael Worthington, Treasurer

Michael said that essentially our income has increased marginally, at the same time as our expenditure has increased.  Increased expenditure is mainly attributable to our having increased the number and frequency of individual support payments.

A separate statement accounting for the movements to this fund has been produced and is available to all on request. He views this year to date as being a consolidating year financially and a rewarding time in the way of events and increases in support to our community. We are continuing to satisfy our criteria for maintaining contingency reserves whilst not feeling constrained in being able to fulfil the requests made upon us.

7  The Chair briefly added that York City of Sanctuary are seeking specialist volunteers, particularly in the area of fund raising and also a case officer to work alongside Paul Wordsworth with individuals and families seeking asylum in York.

8  Election of Officers for the coming year  

All nominations were proposed, seconded, and supported unanimously.

Chair;    Don Phillips       Co-ordinator; Paul Wordsworth

Management Group Secretary; Peter Robinson     Treasurer; Michael Worthington

Representatives nominated from York agencies

YREN; Mahendra Verma RAY;   Sally Bourton

York Interfaith Group; Dee Boyle

Person having current or past refugee status:  William Gomes.

Election of 4 ordinary members 

Maire Doyle                           William Roche

Annie Medcalf                   Tina Funnell

Co-option of up to 3 members 

Representative of North Yorkshire Police: Lisa Winward / Adam Thomson

Representative of City of York Council: Claire Taylor, Communities and Neighbourhoods

Islamic specialist, Arabic speaker:  Dr.Ahmed Khaleel

9  Any other business 

The point was noted that we need to maintain strong links with the Universities.  There are already a number of formal and informal links, but we need to be mindful universities need constant attention, not least because many of their members come and go.

Management team member, Annie Medcalf rounded off the evening by sharing some of the work she and William Roche have been doing in the past year, telling us:

There has been a two pronged approach so far to the work outside of York:  in the cities of Bradford and Middlesbrough.  There has been a succession of trips to these areas to get to know the communities, identify needs and try to meet these needs.  These communities are short of a wide range of things, including household goods and utensils, shoes, Christmas presents, clothes, shoes, toys.  When G4S place families there is often next to nothing in a house.In Bradford it has been possible to raise some money to finance a place where goods can be stored until distributed.

It has also been possible to run some job interview skills training workshops in Middlesbrough. Richard Long, a retired HR Manager, and Ann Simpson, an ESOL Specialist, designed and delivered the first one, and have been asked to run further workshops as the feedback was so successful.

Asylum seekers have few opportunities, provisions and financial resources to actually enjoy themselves.  They need art materials, things to do like craft, and opportunities of theatre and the like.

In October 2016, 14 individuals came from Bradford for the weekend, staying in the private homes of our volunteers.  An evening party was arranged at which they were able to meet up with the Syrian refugees who had recently come to live in York.  It was a great success.  There are more weekends planned, and more training up of volunteers to take place in 2017.

News of our success has spread further afield – Hull and Wakefield are showing interest in engaging with our Welcome to York programme.

The meeting closed at 9.00 pm