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Swindon City of Sanctuary steps up a gear for a New Year of Hope and Welcome

Local charity, Swindon City of Sanctuary, is adding fresh momentum to its commitment to building a town that is welcoming, kind, compassionate and inclusive.

The charity works to promote a culture of welcome, inclusion and safety for all in Swindon, especially people seeking sanctuary from war and persecution. With new Charity Manager, Chloe Wolfe, Swindon City of Sanctuary will be continuing to support Together With Refugees’ Fill the Skies with Hope campaign; and launching a new Year of Welcome calendar at an event at Swindon Hub in the Town Centre on Friday 20th January, from 10.30am-2.30pm.

Swindon City of Sanctuary’s support for Fill the Skies with Hope is the charity’s latest activity, following on from the success of young people’s involvement in the Together With Refugees’ Show Your Heart campaign in 2021, the “Twenty Welcomes” poem created by young people from Swindon schools in 2018, and the continued success of the weekly We’re Open café evenings – bringing our community together through a shared love of good conversation, acoustic live music and a little competitive board-game playing.

Fill the Skies with Hope is a response to the Government’s planned Rwanda scheme, where people who have come to the UK hoping to find safety could be sent on flights to East Africa, thousands of miles away, with no chance to return to the UK. The Fill the Skies with Hope campaign involves people in our community joining together to call on the Government to stop the Rwanda scheme and replace it with a fairer system to support people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Joining together to take simple and powerful action to send messages to Swindon’s MPs, by creating orange heart-shaped paper planes carrying messages of welcome and hope, people across the town can add their voices to thousands of others in the UK urging the Government to think again.

Swindon City of Sanctuary staff, trustees and volunteers will be on hand at the special workshop at Swindon Hub to talk more about the campaign and lead the message-writing activities.

At the same time, Swindon City of Sanctuary will also be launching its Year of Welcome calendar. The calendar, which will be available for people to buy or order for a small donation, highlights global events which have a local impact – and which reflect and promote the charity’s values of welcome and inclusion.

The idea for the calendar grew out of the Show Your Heart campaign during November 2021’s Week of Welcome, which inspired organisations and schools across Swindon to create messages of welcome to all people who have come to the town – especially those who have fled their homes from areas of conflict, persecution and violence. Hundreds of Swindonians of all ages were photographed holding their messages of welcome, which were combined into a giant orange heart by the staff at Create Studios and displayed on a billboard in Old Town in December 2021. A Week of Welcome led to a Month of Welcome, and then to the idea of reflecting the need to show welcome across the entire year.

The calendar has been created by Swindon City of Sanctuary staff and volunteers in collaboration with children’s book illustrator, Bekah Grace, who has put together the friendly illustrations and format which will appeal to schools, organisations, and individuals of all ages.

Swindon City of Sanctuary Charity Manager Chloe Wolfe said:

“2022 was an extremely difficult year and, as we look ahead at the start of 2023, conflict still threatens many parts of the world. People will continue to seek sanctuary in the UK and Swindon will play its part in that.

“Swindon City of Sanctuary works to build a culture of hospitality, welcome and inclusion for everybody in our town, especially those fleeing war and persecution. The New Year offers us a chance to reflect on initiatives we are developing to continue working to make our town safe, kind, welcoming and inclusive. Fill the Skies with Hope gives all of us in our community the chance to tell Swindon’s MPs that we are calling on them to think again about the Rwanda scheme.”

Swindon City of Sanctuary Trustee Cristina Bennett said: “Our calendar, Make Every Year a Year of Welcome, is a reminder to us all that welcome is important all year round, every year. Swindon is a welcoming place. We want to share our warmth and humanity with all people who have come to live here and make the town their home – especially people who have fled conflict, persecution and violence. The calendar prompts us to do this throughout the year in our daily lives.”

Year of Welcome Calendar creator Bekah Grace said: “The really brilliant thing about the Year of Welcome calendar is that it can be introduced at any time of the year, with dates, events and themes for every season. The illustrations show young people saying the word ‘Welcome’ in some of the different languages spoken by people living in Swindon. It’s exciting to know that the calendar will reach far and wide across Swindon!”