The first year of a move to make Bolton into a ‘city of sanctuary’ for those seeking refuge from war and persecution has just been celebrated. Nearly 100 people crammed into the Friends Meeting House to hear the Mayor of Bolton, Cllr Lynda Byrne underline that Bolton has always been a place of welcome and hospitality to those in need, at the annual meeting of City of Sanctuary Bolton.
People of all ages and backgrounds, Muslim or Hindu, Christian or of no faith, came together to share delicious food together from the Mutual Aid Centre. Later there was Albanian and Bollywood dancing, and singers from Russia and Malawi. Finally, there was a beautiful song sung and written by one of the inter faith youth ambassadors about being ‘different’, with a poignant message that no two people are exactly the same.
Christine from Harwood said: “It felt like a lot of friends together. We come from all different kinds of experience and backgrounds which have influenced us, yet in our diversity we make each other’s lives better. We are all so fortunate in that we are all unique, yet with a humanity that has much more in common than in being different. Sanctuary is for all of us, whether born here in this town or born a bit further away. It is possible to welcome each other, to tolerate people who may think a little differently to us, to listen to each other and to find common ground – food, music, life itself – and to live peaceably with each other. It makes life so much more exciting and fulfilling, much happier and healthier.”
Speakers included several refugees who had found welcome and made a new life in the town, a teacher who is working to develop Schools of Sanctuary, and the artistic director of the Octagon, Elizabeth Newman, who is keen to see it open its doors to all and be known as a ‘Theatre of Sanctuary’.
Yasmin Qureshi MP was also present to applaud the local work done for refugees by Brass, the Destitution Project and the Red Cross. She thanked the 30 local organizations who have joined City of Sanctuary so far for their commitment to welcome to fellow human beings having to leave behind the countries they love because of extreme violence and division.
David and his wife Carolyn told us how easy and satisfying they had found it to welcome a displaced person into a spare room in their house, as part of the newly launched hosting scheme for destitute refused asylum seekers. Their guest had previously been sleeping rough in the town centre. Volunteer hosting coordinators James and Donna are making this possible and can be contacted through City of Sanctuary Bolton.
Treasurer Ian McHugh said: “There is such a contrast between the reality of the support we are receiving at City of Sanctuary from all different social classes, backgrounds and cultures, as opposed to the impression you often get in the media about resentment and hostility directed against refugees and asylum seekers. We are proud to be establishing a strong and active group in Bolton as one of a network of over 80 similar groups across the UK and Ireland and have plans to develop our work still further over the coming years.”
City of Sanctuary Bolton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org