Alex Kempton and Felicity Laurence, Hastings Community of Sanctuary
On the evening of Friday 8th March 2019 Rossana Leal received her award for Woman of the Year at the Women of the World Festival on the South Bank. Among the hundreds gathered to witness the awards made to four outstanding women, including the Guardian writer Amelia Gentleman for her reporting of the Windrush tragedy, a large group of Rossana’s supporters from Hastings cheered rapturously and made their presence very evident! There were members of her buddy ‘team’, of Hastings Women’s Voices, and a large contingent of the Syrian families who have now made Hastings their new home.
Rossana’s award was presented by Vanessa Redgrave, who saluted the courage of the Chilean families who tried to resist the murderous coup in 1973, Rossana’s among them. Ms Redgrave explained that Rossana: “remembered the welcome that Chileans had received and she wanted to do the same… So she started mobilising, she found people to welcome and make friends with the Syrian refugees resettled in Hastings.”
Accepting her award, Rossana spoke powerfully about her inspiration for the Buddy project – a coming together of her memories of her own experience of kindness and support when she arrived in a mining village in Scotland as a child refugee with her family, her increasing upset at the images and stories of people escaping conflict as she once had done, now drowning in the Mediterranean sea and doors to safety increasingly being closed. The final element was the presence in her own town of the former Home Secretary, responsible for the Hostile Environment that is so destructive of so many lives. With the Refugee Buddy Project, Rossana is enacting her vision of pushing back and transforming this hostile environment.
A wonderful short film was shown of Rossana at work in Hastings – our town being given a very fine airing in terms both of its beauty (fabulous footage of the town and the beach) and of its proactive and insistent energy in its approach to those finding sanctuary there, helping make it safe and truly welcoming for them.
When each award recipient was asked for a last comment to leave with us all, we were so proud of what Rossana said:
“When future generations see what was happening in the UK at this time, they will ask did you resist or did you collaborate?”
For more information about the Project please see the dedicated section of this website.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Grainger