Ripon CoS is a small group in a small market town, with only two refugee families (for now). Nevertheless, they’ve always tried to punch above their weight with a solid programme of schools work, awareness-raising, campaigning for political change, and clothing collections for centres in Hull and Wakefield.
But like everywhere else, COVID meant that virtually every activity had ground to a halt. However, when Ripon CoS heard that Wakefield District of Sanctuary’s clothing bank was down to its last coat, Ripon felt they had to act.
Coping with COVID
There were hurdles to deal with, of course. Their unmanned clothing drop-off point in a local church was no longer available. Safety was paramount. Fewer people could be involved.
A careful process was put in place, involving packing and quarantining clothing, along with a risk assessment designed to protect donors, ‘middlemen’ and the eventual recipients. Lots of calls for help went out to supporters and schools via email, social posts and personal contact. And the donations began to pour in.
Those who couldn’t give clothes often offered cash. Almost £1,300 was donated in person or via JustGiving, which was used to buy new items like coats, underwear, toiletries and stationery – all on Wakefield’s “wanted” list.
Just a fortnight after launching the campaign, Ripon CoS stuffed two cars to the gills with winter clothing, 100 gorgeous hand-made toys, and boxes of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, hand cream and more. And there are dozens and dozens more bin-liners full of clothes still in quarantine, waiting to be taken to Wakefield in further trips, along with 25 stress-busting mindfulness kits.
Although this campaign closed as England went into a second lockdown, it’s clear that it could be switched on again at any time.
Nicola David, chair of Ripon City of Sanctuary, said it was a big relief to be active again. “There have been so many knock-on benefits that we hadn’t foreseen. For start, we’ve been really happy to engage with our supporters and Wakefield DoS again.
“To our surprise, five local school have been falling over themselves to get involved. We hadn’t initially approached any schools, because we thought they’d be too disrupted by COVID, but they’ve been so keen. One Ripon school is also drawing in sister-schools in the Wakefield area, which is opening up all kinds of doors for Wakefield DoS.
“Our campaign publicity has brought forward 6 people to fill volunteer posts, we’ve had coverage in a local newspaper, and our Facebook followers have gone up 17% in 2 months.
“It just goes to show that there’s a real appetite to help sanctuary-seekers, and people are getting tired of sitting back. If you’re willing to think creatively to get round the obstacles, and keep safety at the front of mind, it’s surprising just how many people will step forward.”
View from Wakefield
Dick Davies, Chair of Wakefield District of Sanctuary shared what the donations have meant to Wakefield.
“Here in Wakefield we have been so encouraged by the interest and support we get from other city of Sanctuary groups such as Ripon. Wakefield is not a really big place, but we have one of the largest Initial accommodation hostels in the country. People arriving in the UK seeking asylum are housed in such places while longer-term accommodation is arranged for them. Our Wakefield group (like our city) is smaller than many, and it is great to know that others in our national network are standing with us.“
Dick explained that with the support of Ripon City of Sanctuary, and other groups in the region like York, they have been able to place things to help families who arrive in Wakefield with little or nothing. “All of these things help us to show these new arrivals that they are welcome here in the UK. It is so precious to be able to say that people from miles around are all helping to make them feel safe and welcome.”
Wakefield District of Sanctuary looks forward to continuing this fruitful collaboration, helping to create a culture of welcome together.