When charity begins at home, our community becomes a sanctuary

This international day of charity, we’re highlighting the ultimate in volunteering – sharing your home with someone seeking safety and shelter. We want to celebrate the incredible contribution of our brilliant volunteers to Sanctuary Hosting, particularly Mrs. Kate Bowen, who has shown her belief in our ethos of sanctuary by supporting numerous individuals in need since day one.

Sanctuary Hosting was founded with an ‘open minds, open hearts’ mindset, and if there is someone that truly embodies this vision, it is Kate Bowen, who is a trustee, host, support worker, media spokesperson, admin support… the list goes on!

Kate became one of the founding members of Sanctuary Hosting in 2015, and since then her family has welcomed 12  guests to their home, 3 during the COVID 19 pandemic, represented Sanctuary Hosting on radio stations across the Thames Valley, hosted a Summer Party for our guests, volunteers and staff, provided support when appraising new host and guest referrals, provided shelter to individuals at very short notice, driven guests to appointments, and we got so lucky as to have her join our Board of Trustees.

Madeleine is also an extraordinary representation of charity and kindheartedness. Moved to make her spare room a sanctuary out of a feeling of helplessness in the face of the refugee crisis at its peak in 2015, She has hosted 9 guests at her home in Oxford over the past 4 years. She says: ‘It’s more than just ‘doing good’. It’s quite deep. It’s about equality and respect, and all those things. You’re living it a bit, rather than just reading about it or thinking about it.’

Of course – like having any guests – there can be difficult moments, and many of the guests are traumatised by their past experiences, but there are also moments of magic. ‘It’s amazing being able to laugh about things with people from a different culture. I love that – when you find so much difference, but you find something you can both giggle about, or do together. Humour is a really big positive.’

We are eternally grateful for the outstanding support we have received from our volunteers in the past years. In the words of our Service Manager, Sarah Wahby: “it never gets old after so many times and years, it astounds me away every time when a host family says to a complete stranger: ‘My home is your home, help yourself to anything you need’. Hosts show such generous hospitality to someone who otherwise could be in a dire and unimaginable situation.”


Ray Of Light

#RefugeeWeek2020 #Imagine


This week we have been sharing posts on our social media in which members of the Sanctuary Hosting community have responded to the theme of this year’s Refugee Week – Imagine.  It has been great to be part of Refugee Week with its amazing variety of digital events https://refugeeweek.org.uk/


To see more content, please visit our Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SanctuaryHUK/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/SanctuaryHUK pages.  It has been wonderful to receive contributions from guests, hosts, volunteers, staff and trustees, and we hope these give you a sense of the whole of our Sanctuary Hosting community, which is made up of many people across the Thames Valley.


Highlights of the week have been seeing guests’ work in the Making Space Safe exhibition at Modern Art Oxford https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/refugee-week-celebration-creativity-resilience/ and also in the latest edition of Oxford Is My Home ‘zine https://oxfordismyhomezine.wordpress.com/


We have also been moved by a written contribution from our Chair of Trustees, Alison Baxter, who reflects on the hopes embodied in the founding of the United Nations sixty years ago, and imagines what these could actually bring about if we were to fully enact them https://www.facebook.com/pg/SanctuaryHUK/posts/?ref=page_internal


Sanctuary Hosting’s Service Co-ordinator, Eden Habtemichael, has shared this poem – Ray Of Light – which powerfully conveys one person’s experience of finding their way as a refugee.  Ray Of Light ppt  You can explore different versions of the poem, including a version in three languages, on our social media pages.


Refugee Week 2020 continues throughout this weekend with films, talks, music and much more to explore at the website https://refugeeweek.org.uk/events/

Thanks For Lockdown Fundraising

Run completed!


We are really grateful to Ilana Cope, who is on a gap year between school and university.  Ilana told us, “I was travelling in South-East Asia when coronavirus hit, so I had to come home. I have never really been a runner, but during lockdown I wanted to make the most of my one permitted run a day, by doing a 5k every morning.  As I got faster I decided to challenge myself by training for a half marathon.”

Ilana chose to raise money for Sanctuary Hosting because she knew about the struggles of destitute asylum seekers and refugees through her Mum’s work of many years.  “Sanctuary Hosting is an amazing scheme that helps people in desperate situations.  I know the money will go a long way.”

Ilana raised £900 for Sanctuary Hosting, and completed the half marathon in 2 hours 18 minutes.  Congratulations and thank you!

A week in the (remote) life of a Project worker

In this post, Isabella Fleitas Fermin, Sanctuary Hosting’s Project Worker in Reading, will be sharing how her new virtual work week look like in lockdown.

As we all have experienced, Covid-19 has changed the way we operate at all levels. While a lot has changed in this rather uncertain world, I feel very grateful to share that the most beautiful aspects of Sanctuary Hosting’s work have remained intact: such as the unconditional support of our wonderful hosts and support workers, and the ability to give individuals a chance to have a place to be safe and temporarily call home.

In general, a Project Worker’s agenda during in the lockdown virtual world ranges from webinar and meetings with staff and other colleagues in the sector; training and consultations sessions for volunteers; and weekly check-in phone calls with guests. For example, a Monday morning would begin by responding to emails. I would normally have arranged to meet guests in the afternoon to catch up at a café, but now we get to do it via phone call from the comfort of our home. The following day consists preparing meeting notes for my weekly updates for our virtual team meeting on Tuesday morning. Afterwards, I review a prospective guest’s application and collect references after interviewing them.

This week, Wednesday is both a networking and learning day: I attend a meeting with local homelessness organisations regarding community-based responses to Covid. We have been working collaboratively with local Councils and organisations to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected during this time of crisis, and ensure that their rights are protected moving forward, post-lockdown. I then ‘zoom in’ to the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre weekly webinar on Strengthening refugee-led humanitarian response during the Covid-19 pandemic to learn about the experiences of colleagues across the world, which is open to anyone and I would highly recommend. As Thursday comes around, the end of my part-time working week approaches and my day consists of ticking off boxes in my to-do list before signing off.

For me, one of the wonderful things about Sanctuary Hosting is our outreach work, and the fact that you get to connect with people and build purposeful communities. I definitely have been missing interacting with volunteers and guests in person, but am very grateful to have technology that allows us to keep building rapport with the Sanctuary Hosting community and interact through creative activities.

What I love the most about Sanctuary Hosting is the fact that there is no day like the other, every day presents a new opportunity to learn, connect, and advocate for the rights of individuals looking to rebuild their lives through the safety of hosting. Undoubtedly these are the moments that I cherish the most – knowing how much of an impact the fact of having their own personal space through hosting can have on our guests’ wellbeing is what motivates me to work during these rare times.

New Country Guides for hosts

Last year we circulated a survey to all of our current and past hosts, to see what we could do better and how we could improve our service, leading to better outcomes for everyone that we work with.

One theme that emerged was that hosts would like to know more about their guests prior to move-in.

It’s a delicate line to walk- hosts are largely motivated to create the best environment for their guests, and it is understandable that they are keen for information about their guests. But we know that they also understand the importance of maintaining the guests dignity and privacy.

The wonderful thing about hosting is that invariably- in the course of the hosting period- a rapport and a trust is often established, that means a natural flow of conversation can occur, but of course- it is important that the guests has control over his or her own story.

In response to this- we have created some short guides to four of the countries that many of our guests come from. We hope these may be useful to at least establish some context for hosts and anyone else who wants to learn about these countries.

Please feel free to download them and use if they are useful to you.


Disclaimer: They are a very short overview of countries with rich, diverse, culture, people and politics and are by no means absolute.
The guides were researched and produced in good faith by Sanctuary Hosting. We welcome any amendments and corrections! If you have any, please email sarah.wahby@sanctuaryhosting.org


The Guides

Short guide_ Albania

Short guide_ Afghanistan

Short guide_ Eritrea

Short guide_ The Gambia





Christmas shopping that helps refugees

I admit that I am not immune to the sudden panic that comes with December the first. I’m only human. Luckily my family and friends are fairly tuned into a ‘pared down’ Christmas, and happy with a book, or something pre-loved and passed on, so the pressure is in my head, not theirs.  More and more though, retailers- and charities- are cottoning on to the fact that if people can spend money, contribute less to landfill and feel good about themselves- it’s a win-win situation.

Read on for a few ways you could help refugees when you go shopping this year:

1)Buy gifts for Refugees in need-  Choose Love
Choose Love says it’s the first shop where you can buy real gifts for refugees. You can buy a ‘hot meal’ for £5, a tent for £30, and lots of other essential items, including the whole store for £650. The items make their way to refugees in need across the world.  And a bit like Oxfam’s goat poo –if you’re buying it as a gift, you can send the recipient a card to show what you ‘bought’ them. Choose Love say they’ve funded more than 1.5 million items for refugees since 2017.


2) Learn to cook with Migrateful cookery classes
Migrateful is an organisation that connects people through the love of food. Migrant chefs run cookery classes, that not only share the secrets of delicious regional cooking, but are also a perfect environment for migrants and non-migrants to meet, learn something new, integrate and enjoy food. It’s also a way for the chefs to move towards employment and build their confidence.
You can buy gift vouchers for their cookery classes in London, Kent and Bristol, or organise a team one for a Christmas celebration for your organisation! That’s my sister and her husband sorted. (I hope they don’t read this…and invite me round to theirs soon)


3) Show your campaigning colours with a purchase from Right to Remain
Right to Remain is a campaigning organisation, that helps people understand the immigration process with resources and training, and access their rights with dignity and humanity. You can buy hoodies and t-shirts- with the iconic ‘No one is Illegal’ slogan from their shop, as well as bags and other resources for migrants, such as their excellent toolkit.


4) Donate the cost of Christmas cards
If you want to save the planet, and help refugees who are at risk of being homeless in the UK- you can send e-cards instead, and donate the cost of cards and postage to the charity Refugees at Home, who like us, host destitute migrants in generous peoples spare rooms.


5) Buy someone a bike!
This wonderful project in the UK takes old, unwanted donated bikes, spruces them up and gives them to refugees and asylum seekers to get around their new communities. You can also buy secondhand refurbished bikes from them, and the money goes straight back into the project.


5) Donate to us at Sanctuary Hosting!

Ok so this is donating, not shopping! But, a donation will help us to offer someone a safe place to sleep at a crucial time in their life. They will be offered Sanctuary: a proper bed to sleep on, and a door they can close for some peace and privacy.  This won’t solve all their problems, but it will give them some breathing space while they tackle their most pressing issues.

We have calculated that each person costs us about £10 a night to accommodate and on top of that we provide a small allowance to most of our guests to buy food, toiletries and maybe a bus pass. Quite a Christmas gift! We believe this represents excellent value for money, and we thank you for helping us to provide sanctuary to those who really need it in this way.