Swansea City of Sanctuary has won the sought-after Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. The award, from Buckingham Palace, is the equivalent of an MBE for volunteer groups and is the highest award presented to volunteer groups throughout the UK. The award is a recognition of outstanding contributions made by individuals who donate their time and skills to Swansea City of Sanctuary’s activities.
The organisation is volunteer-led, and has been co-ordinated by a Management Committee, comprised of volunteers, including individuals with direct experience of the UK asylum system. Swansea City of Sanctuary Co-Chair Amber Esther, herself an asylum seeker, said:
“We are very happy to receive this award. It brings recognition of the hard work undertaken by our volunteers, many of whom are themselves seeking sanctuary. The award serves as a celebration of the welcoming attitudes and behaviours demonstrated by individuals in Swansea, the UK’s second City of Sanctuary.”
Swansea City of Sanctuary has over 100 volunteers who support the organisation in a variety of ways. The ‘Welcome to Swansea Project’, recruits and trains volunteers who support newly-arrived asylum seekers to access services and opportunities in Swansea. There are also the ‘Sanctuary Speakers’ who are experts-by-experience of the asylum system and deliver awareness-raising training to groups throughout the city. All volunteers are supervised and supported by staff members, and all contribute to improved community relations.
Swansea City of Sanctuary Co-Chair, Alan Thomas said:
“June is a busy month for Swansea City of Sanctuary. It includes Volunteers’ Week (June 1st-7th) and Refugee Week (June 19th-25th). The first is a celebration of the effort made by volunteers. The second is a celebration of contributions made by people seeking sanctuary, and a recognition of different pasts, collectively forming a shared future. The Queens Award for Voluntary Service is a nod to the tremendous contributions made by our volunteers and we would like to take this opportunity, in Volunteers’ Week, to thank each and every one of them for all they do to make our vision of Swansea as a safe, welcoming place, a reality.”
As part of the award, Swansea City of Sanctuary representatives were invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace on May 16th 2017. Swansea City of Sanctuary Development Worker, Eleri Williams, and Integration Officer, Stepheni Kays were privileged to attend the garden party which was also attended by Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Stepheni Kays said:
“That moment of entering the Palace was both exhilarating, humbling and a time of reflection as to how I got there in the first place. Having come to the UK as an asylum seeker under very difficult circumstances and to be in the Palace representing an organisation, colleagues, volunteers and the people whose experiences are seemingly related to mine was both an honour and a blessing. The experience transported me back to a dark past, unpleasant journey, an uncertain asylum outcome, but it also gave me hope and encouragement for the future.”