Two Lancaster schools are among those to be given a special award for their welcoming attitude to all.
Lancashire School of Sanctuary status has been awarded to Our Lady’s Catholic College and The Cathedral Catholic Primary School.
A School of Sanctuary award is given to schools that help students, staff and the wider community understand what it means to be seeking sanctuary and to extend a welcome to everyone as equal, valued members of the school community.
Schools of Sanctuary are schools that are proud to be a place of safety and inclusion for all.
The schools were presented with a certificate in recognition of their achievement at a presentation ceremony held at County Hall, Preston, by Paul Duckworth (senior adviser, School Improvement Service) and Jeff Morgan (The City of Sanctuary national trustee in the north west) on behalf of the National City of Sanctuary movement and Lancashire County Council.
Along with and English Martyr’s Catholic Primary School in Preston, they are the first schools in the county to receive the accolade.
The Cathedral Catholic Primary School has been working for some time towards this award, ably led by Rachel Cook, their inclusion manager.
She said: “The journey to School of Sanctuary started when we realised that as a Catholic school community we were already ensuring that our children had a welcoming, inclusive environment in which to learn and pray.
“When we heard about the initiative, all the staff believed that we could work together to further develop our links with refugees and the most vulnerable members of the community.
“This involved working closely with the charity Global Link who came in to talk to the school about their work and how we could help refugees and asylum seekers.
“Following this, our children wrote messages of hope which were delivered to local refugees and asylum seekers over lunch.
“We used last autumn’s school harvest collection to collect toiletries which were delivered to a local Women’s Drop-In which provides friendship and support to refugees and their families.
“Throughout the last academic year, we organised activities and events to help staff and children develop a richer understanding of life in other parts of the world, particularly those affected by war and political unrest.
“We used stories to consider the difficulties encountered by refugees and heard first-hand accounts of life in Syria from Sister Annie who works for the Catholic charity ‘Aid to the Church in Need’.
“To raise awareness of the many first languages spoken by pupils in our school, we have ‘Language of the Month’ where we learn more about the countries and languages represented in our school.
“Multi faith week, RE and PSHE lessons have been used to teach children about the faith of others, how this is lived out and the importance of respect between religions.
“Even our entrance hall has been refurbished to ensure that we are always ready to ‘Welcome the Stranger’ and offer the best support we can to those who are encountering school in our country for the first time.
“One member of staff reflects that the highlight in our preparation for becoming a School of Sanctuary was a visit from Anthony Finnerty who works for Global Link and our Lancaster Diocese.
“He provided great insight into the plights of asylum seekers and refugees and also enabled us to listen to and question a refugee on the journey he has encountered since he left his country.
“This strengthened our yearning to be able to help others who have experienced great difficulties and loss which have led them to seek refuge in our country.
“Children have gained much from learning about the lives of others around the world. They realise that we are all equal and loved by God and are wonderful in ensuring that no child is ever far from a friend or a smile.
“One child said, “We are all part of the same family and it doesn’t matter where you are from.”
“As a school, we have worked and grown together as a team and we are very grateful for all the support we have received along the way. We continue to work to welcome the stranger and live out our school mission, “At Cathedral Catholic Primary School we are safe and cared for; we make Christ known and loved, using his example to strive for excellence in all we do.”
Our Lady’s Catholic College have also been working on this award.
Chaplain Rachel said: “I’ve been working at Our Lady’s Catholic College for over two years as chaplain.
“What initially attracted me to the school was the family feel of the school community. The people in our school make it a very special place to be and to work – both the staff community, who as one pupil put it “Not only go the extra mile for you, but the extra 1000 miles for you” and also the pupils, who are so welcoming and are daily inspirations.
“When I heard of the opportunity to be a part of a cooperation supporting refugees and the most vulnerable people in our society, I thought this was a wonderful initiative, which celebrates and highlights the Catholic ethos already underpinning our entire way of working in school.
“As Pope Francis said “With regard to migrants, displaced persons and refugees, a common commitment is needed, one focused on offering them a dignified welcome”.
“A lot of the work to achieve the School of Sanctuary status was work we would undertake anyway and so it allowed us to focus and hone in on where we really could make a difference. We worked with all sections of our community, staff, parents and pupils.
“This included: Assemblies, Retreat days, Refugee Week, Working with Aid to the Church in Need, sharing children’s art work from Syria, Global Link presenting on the current information about Asylum in the UK, Sponsored Walks, making welcome packs for refugees and messages of hope and presentations from our own pupils who are refugees.”
Reflecting on the journey to become a School of Sanctuary, one pupil said: “We learnt the importance of diversity, inclusion and how we can use it to develop our knowledge of world cultures and religions and live together as one.”
Another pupil said: I found the Aid to the Church in Need talk at the university really useful. Hearing the stories of the people from Iraq and Nigeria expanded my knowledge and significantly increased my awareness of the extent and extremities people have to go through, and this helped me to understand why it is so essential for us to welcome refugees into our communities. I am proud to be part of a School of Sanctuary, which recognises the importance of this.”