Public libraries are a fantastic resource, and they can play an important role in welcoming refugees and people seeking sanctuary in our communities. To support this, Hastings Community of Sanctuary has been working with the East Sussex Library & Information Service under the Libraries of Sanctuary scheme run by City of Sanctuary UK.
Libraries of Sanctuary is a network of librarians, library staff, community groups and book lovers who are raising awareness of the issues facing people in the asylum system, offering support and participation opportunities, and contributing to a culture of welcome in the wider community.
The Library of Sanctuary Award recognises and celebrates the libraries that go above and beyond to show solidarity and welcome. A panel met in July to assess the application from East Sussex Library Service, which included feedback from people with lived experience of the UK asylum system, and were unanimous in their decision to grant the award.
The Library Service had showed great enthusiasm in learning about the experience of seeking sanctuary and understanding the issues facing sanctuary seekers. They had also thought carefully about how to make their libraries more welcoming, and how to support sanctuary seekers to make full use of the services on offer, which include books in multiple languages, English conversation sessions and events to celebrate Refugee Week.
Kristy Child, Libraries Operations Manager at East Sussex County Council said: “The East Sussex Library and Information Service are proud to have been awarded Library of Sanctuary status. We will continue to support sanctuary seekers by ensuring we provide welcoming, safe spaces and offering conversation and language courses as well as free internet access and signposting to other supportive services. We would like to thank everyone at Hastings Community of Sanctuary who have offered their support and we look forward to working with them moving forward.”
As part of the process, Hastings Library were partners in a project linked to the Sanctuary Festival. Nine Hastings residents with lived experience of the UK asylum system took part in creative workshops led by artists Anne-Marie Watson and Fatima Esayli and English tutor Kathy Briscoe. Their brief was to design a banner to hang in the entrance hall of the library that communicated a message of welcome to all communities.
“[We feel] very proud. Our soul is in the banner – different lives and cultures in Hastings together in one place in a colourful way.” Victoria, project participant
The beautiful artwork was installed in July and is the perfect expression of what it means to be a Library of Sanctuary.