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Ipswich Town of Sanctuary

About the Grassroots Movement

Ask someone the traditional view of sanctuary and they will no doubt suggest a holy place – a church, a mosque, a temple – in which a desperate soul can find refuge and safety from the troubles that surround them and once they find refuge in a church by tradition will keep them safe for as long as need be. It’s a loose image but it will do to illustrate several points with regard to a view of sanctuary.

Firstly, the word has connotations of safety, refuge and respite. Secondly, the person seeking sanctuary is protected from the wiles of their persecutors but only for the time they remain within the confines of the designated building or space… the moment they leave the place of sanctuary they are fair game. Thirdly, they arrive in one state and leave in that same state or condition. Nothing has changed for the person other than that they have found respite for a certain length of time.

Ipswich Town of Sanctuary redefines this traditional model of sanctuary. Traditional sanctuary is no longer given credence or respected…how often do we hear “you can run but you cannot hide”. Yet many people find themselves unable, for one reason or another, to cope with the vicissitudes and vagaries of modern life. They may perceive themselves as persecuted by modern life… they may feel rejected by modern life. They are as every bit alone as the person of old looking for refuge… for sanctuary. They are in need of shelter from the world, in need of a space wherein they can find nourishment, care and a chance to rebuild their lives… and this is what ITS offers.

The encounter with ITS is no solitary or passive experience. The person who arrives invariably is not the person who leaves; they are offered a chance of transformation and many leave transformed. Not changed but transformed. Change implies taking something and making it into something else. Transformation takes what is given and allows it to bloom flourish and reach its potential. Through ITS they are offered assistance with finding mechanisms for coping with the world in which they live; given shelter, food and medical advice, assistance with languages, help with looking for and coping with work. The person who leaves this sanctuary is vastly different from the person who arrived because the invisible ingredient is the confidence, dignity and self worth that can only be found through being treated as a human being valued devoid of any label; valued for who one is and has the potential to become rather than for who one ought to be as measured against the sterile and conditioned responses of received wisdom.

Needless to say there are no qualifications for finding sanctuary with ITS; all person, regardless of race, faith or no faith are accepted… just as they are. Not only does ITS attempt to reshape the idea of sanctuary but it also attempts to render the idea of “the stranger” as obsolete. A stranger can only exist when seen as an outsider. There are no outsiders for ITS… and therefore no strangers. All are welcomed with open arms as part of the wider brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind where one person temporarily in possession of more gives to one who is temporarily in possession of less.

A corollary of this approach is the example set to a world of increasing secularism and individualism; to a world where traditional religious and philosophical values are increasingly questioned but without anything being offered in their place. The practical example set by ITS attempts by its very practice to reverse growing secular, isolationist and individual tendencies thus re-establishing a sense of practical community. By doing this it acts as a rebalancing agent in a diverse and disparate community ever at odds with itself because of its lack of care for itself.

To sum up I’m reminded of the tale where the local establishment kept on preaching that people had to put goodness back in their lives. A wise woman on hearing this tale retorted, goodness is already there…all we have to do is recognise it. ITS recognises the goodness and potential in others and attempts to assist them to realise it in their own lives.

What we Provide

✓ Talks: primary, secondary and sixth form students

✓ Hosting Project; accomodation for the homeless and destitute

✓ Assisting TV & documentary producers to find case studies

✓ Signposting agencies & sanctuary seekers

Building Relationships

In November 2008, Melissa founded Ipswich Town of Sanctuary which is part of the national movement, “City of Sanctuary”.

A Town of Sanctuary, is a place of safety and welcome for people whose lives are in danger in their own countries. It is a place where:

The skills and cultures of people seeking sanctuary are valued, where they are included in local communities and able to contribute to the life of the town.

Community groups, local government, media, businesses, schools and colleges have a shared commitment to offering sanctuary so that it is seen as part of the town’s identity by local people.

People seeking sanctuary can easily build relationships with local people as neighbours, friends and colleagues. Through these relationships, local people come to understand the injustices refugees face and become motivated to support and defend them.

Ipswich Borough Council

In October 2012, Ipswich Borough Council passed a resolution of support towards Ipswich becoming a Town of Sanctuary: IBC resolves to declare that Ipswich will serve as a “Town of Sanctuary” for genuine asylum seekers and refugees (sanctuary seekers) that are forced to flee from their own countries to avoid persecution or danger. To that end IBC will within current resources:-

1. Seek to be a welcoming town for refugees and those seeking sanctuary

2. Co-operate with Ipswich Town of Sanctuary movement to help develop policies and strategies with the community and organisations of Ipswich to support sanctuary seekers

3. Work with its staff to ensure that they understand the needs of those seeking sanctuary and are able to challenge misinformation in the wider community

4. Look to promote ways of valuing sanctuary seekers through the offering of volunteer opportunities both in the wider Ipswich community and where possible within IBC

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