On 5th April a group of people from the Stone area met at St. Dominic’s social centre to hear from two guest speakers from the Sanctus St. Mark’s project, which is based in Stoke on Trent.
Sanctus is a support group for refugees and those seeking asylum in the UK.
The initial meeting gave a lot of information about the background, the objectives and the actions that the project undertakes to provide support to those that it serves.
The group were inspired to contemplate what tangible support we, as a community, could provide to help with the good work undertaken.
A second follow up meeting will take place today, Wednesday 26th April 2017, at St. Dominic’s social centre, Station road, at 7.30 pm.
Speakers from Sanctus will be in attendance, and the hope is to be able to agree as a group what kind of actions the group will be able to undertake to support Sanctus.
Anybody who has an interest in supporting this worthwhile cause is most welcome to join us tomorrow to learn more, and also to pro-actively get involved where possible.
Minutes from the first meeting are below:
Stone Friends of Sanctus
Minutes of the meeting held at St. Dominic’s Social Centre, 5th April 2017 at 1930.
- Alan Beckett gave an introduction to Sanctus and our guest speakers Deana Korwin and Hua. He also gave a brief background explaining why we were all here.
- DK introduced Sanctus, which started from a craft group at St. Mark’s church by Rev. Sally Smith. It was originally going to be called Sanctuary but a misspelling at the printers led to the name of Sanctus. DK moved to the area in 2015 following a background in helping international students in Wolverhampton. She first started to work for ‘Arch’ which is a domestic violence outreach charity, then volunteered to help Sanctus in order to improve its organisational and administrative aspects. In 2016, 20 core volunteers met at Shallowford House and agreed on 6 core values that Sanctus should stand for:
- Love – everybody wherever they come from and whatever their needs
- Sanctuary and welcome
- Acceptance – take people at face value and not be judgemental
- Compassion – empathy with how others are feeling
- Justice – provide advocacy, a voice for those that are not represented
- Servanthood – imitators of Christ
The main focus of Sanctus is around the two drop in sessions each week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 0930 until 1230, where 120-140 people attend. The sessions usually overrun by a few hours. The main centre of activity is St. Mark’s church, Shelton. There is also a session on Mondays at the Central Methodist Hall in Longton. Services provided at these sessions include English teaching, a family room with activities for young families, food distribution, case work advice (provided by 3 legal students from Keele University), befriending isolated people that cannot speak the language (especially older men from Iran and Iraq).
Sanctus also provides housing, and this was started by Sally initially renting a private house. There are now 5 properties used to house 24 people. Some people are now buying houses and allowing Sanctus to use them rent free. Those housed are also given an allowance of £20 per week to supplement the £36.90 that the government provides.
Donations of goods are sorted by volunteers and until recently were stored in St. Mark’s church. Unfortunately due to serious structural issues with the building an appeal was made for alternative storage space, and Sanctus now has the use of 2 lockups and a van.
DK then gave additional information on the context of government policy, explaining that the 2016 Immigration Act created a hostile environment for asylum seekers, which is making it almost impossible to come to the UK to seek sanctuary. An asylum seeker (one who is seeking a safe place to live) needs to have a well founded fear of persecution in the country they are fleeing. This evidence can be extremely difficult to provide in some circumstances. If the legal process is accepted they are given leave to stay and assigned refugee status. The new immigration act will mean a much stronger chance that after 5 years the leave to stay will be revoked. Even those given refugee status need help whilst the administration is processed, which can take a long time. 84% of applications are turned down automatically. DK expressed the view that the system was deliberately hostile to asylum seekers.
DK spoke about a 5 year plan that Sanctus has and this involves the setting up of a ‘goodwill exchange’ that makes use of the goodwill that asylum seekers have and their desire to contribute and be useful in some way, as they are not allowed to work or even volunteer. In practice this may involve the setting up of an ‘ethical market place’ where their craft goods can be traded, and a ‘world cafe’ where the 60+ nationalities can share their national cuisine.
DK finished with some interesting statistics from the latest (2015) information:
- 3 million people forced from their homes across the world
- Developing countries host 80% of them
- Lebanon is the size of Cornwall and hosts 3 million plus refugees
- UK has 118,000 refugees (0.18% of our population)
- UK 38,878 asylum applications received and only 45% of these were ultimately successful (Germany 431,000, Sweden 163,000)
- We then heard a moving account from a Chinese lady called Hua, a refugee who entered the country in 2005. She shared with us her experiences of persecution in her homeland and her family’s story since fleeing. She explained her discovery of God’s love and the growth of her faith in Christ, and how this now motivates her to help others.
- We then had the opportunity to ask questions and have an open discussion with the guest speakers.
- It was agreed that a further meeting would take place where we could discuss how we could best help the Sactus project. A Wednesday night meeting seemed to suit those attending.
- AB then led a prayer, followed by Sr. M. Anna closing the meeting with a final prayer at 2045.