St. Joseph’s Cathedral Primary – the first Primary School of Sanctuary in Swansea
In 2019, during Swansea’s 50 years as a city celebrations and fittingly during Refugee Week we became Swansea’s first Primary School of Sanctuary and were presented with our award by the then Lord Mayor of Swansea, Peter Black and by representatives from Swansea City of Sanctuary. Fittingly the theme of this was ‘You, Me and those that have welcomed them throughout the generations’.
As a School we continue to work in close partnership with Swansea City of Sanctuary and other organisations, to welcome our asylum seeker and refuges families into our school and local community.
A School of Sanctuary is a school that is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for all, especially those seeking sanctuary. This could be people whose lives were in danger in their own country, who have troubles at home or are just looking for a space of safety.
A School of Sanctuary is a school that helps its students, staff and 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. It is a school that is proud to be a place of safety and inclusion for all.
The programme began in Yorkshire, England, and there are now Schools of Sanctuary across England, Wales and Ireland.
Our journey started in 2017 when as part of the Lead Creative Schools initiative funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Arts Council for Wales our upper KS2 pupils learnt about the immigration of the early Irish settlers to Greenhill. The result of their hard work and labour are the Cathedral and our school that still stand in Greenhill today- a testament to the challenges and struggles they faced.
Children have learnt about the challenges current migrants and their families face today through class assemblies, asylum seeking and refugee workshops, anti – racism workshops e.g. ‘Show Racism the Red Card and through developing links with Swansea University Department of Geography and Centre for Migration Policy Research, EYST (Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team) and Swansea City of Sanctuary.
We are encouraged to explore the lives of refugees and the people who have welcomed them. Wales and Swansea have enjoyed a long history of welcoming refugees and certainly those that settled in Greenhill played a massive role in the work that was done in the Copperworks just up the road from our school in the Hafod, when Swansea was the biggest exporter of copper in the world. We continue to benefit from the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of those refugees that have gone before and that arrive in our city today.
Pupils in St. Joseph’s are given opportunities to explore the experiences and emotions that migrants may face as they arrive in a new place. Pupils explore the concepts of what it’s like growing up in a new place/country, to question what community is and the support and opposition to settlement and how faith can play its part in helping communities and individuals settle.
In St. Joseph’s, pupils come from a wide range of different ethical and cultural backgrounds. Discussions with pupils revolve around what it feels like to be different and how and why we should accept difference and diversity. These conversations enable our school community to consider how we can overcome these challenges and how we can help to build stronger communities.
The work we have done since our journey began in 2017 has allowed the members of our school community to connect with other people emotionally in different ways, in ways that go beyond language and beyond words beyond the walls of our buildings whether they be in our schools, museums, churches or universities. It has helped us to work with people with very different experiences and backgrounds. It has made us consider the space and feelings we share despite our differences, to question and challenge our expectations and reactions and attitudes to others. It has helped us to understand what displacement means for people and has helped us consider and relate the migrant journeys of others to our own experiences. Through the art work our pupils continue to produce there is no need for words or language. The art work itself speaks for itself, transcending all boundaries, a message of unity, togetherness and community.
Schools of Sanctuary are for everyone: the school itself, pupils, parents, communities, local people and people seeking sanctuary. It’s a way to engage sanctuary seekers and families with their communities and educate teachers and children about the human right to sanctuary. They are schools that are proud to be a place of safety and inclusion for all.
Our art project ‘Sanctuary- the Road to Belonging’ saw artists engaging with pupils, staff and parents including our asylum seeker and refugee parents in activities which enabled us to explore themes of trust and belonging, and look at how we engage and work with individuals and with groups new to our country and communities. All pupils and their families from Nursery to Year 6 participated in this whole school project and children were asked to record what sanctuary and home meant to them through their designs and by adding words in their mother tongue. These words were then incorporated into the sculpture. Pupils, staff and parents from our asylum seeker and refugee families were invited into school to work with their children on our Sanctuary Sculpture.
Our work from both projects can currently be seen in the Oriel Science Gallery, Swansea.
We want the children in our school to live in a world where every child feels safe and accepted regardless of what they believe, where they are from or what they look like; a place where cultural diversity is valued and celebrated. We are proud to be part of the Schools of Sanctuary initiative, which aims to make this vision a reality and encourage people across Wales to support Wales in its aim to become the first Nation of Sanctuary.
Refugee week is remembered each year in school.
Year 5 learnt about Otis Bolamu’s story when he came in to speak to the children. They learnt how it was too dangerous to return to his Country- The Democratic Republic of Congo. He spoke how he had been removed from Swansea and detained for deportation but how many people had signed a petition for his return to Swansea until his appeal is heard. His story was inspirational and his T-shirt to thank those who helped him has formed part of the school’s Sanctuary Art project- ‘The Road to Belonging.