City of Sanctuary Sheffield – Creating a Culture of Welcome

City of Sanctuary Sheffield received a grant from The Edith M Ellis 1985 Charitable Trust in February 2022 to enable them to extend their work building sanctuary for forced migrants through innovative architectural design.  This funding allowed the organisation to work alongside experts in the field of social architecture to take a critical look at ‘contingency’ accommodation in and around Sheffield.As their major output they created a thoroughly illustrated visual presentation that shared the steps within the U.K. asylum system in detail.

City of Sanctuary Sheffield visited refugee hotels, and were granted access to a hotel where they interviewed residents. As well as this they spoke to hotel organizers and the hotel staff to gather insights from this first- hand research. During this process they discovered that refugees want better education, access to physical activity, chances to put on cultural celebrations, opportunities to use facilities that are in the hotel, workshop spaces, pathways to share knowledge, and volunteering opportunities.  Interestingly, reform in the asylum system are the main priorities from the perspective of the hotel welfare staff.

They also carried out architectural analysis to understand the spatial and organisational programme of the refugee hotels as well a larger typological analysis of all 91 refugee hotels across the country. This concluded in Five typologies – corporate (Travel lodge style) hotels; terraced house hotels (London); grand hotels; rural hotels; and army barracks – work that will support organisations to make spatial interventions that fits all of them.

As well as this they visited the local places asylum seekers attend, such as the informal cafes that have little to no funded support and local community restaurants. Here they discovered a clear dependency that people seeking sanctuary in city centre locations have on local community infrastructure, such as restaurants and shops from different cultures. These places offer a respite from the monotony of the hotel environment, providing a safe space for them to exist and enabling people to engage with their home culture while in such an alien place. This further strengthens the call for asylum seekers to be housed in communities, not hotels or camps, while they await a decision on their claim.

This work resulted in an analysis of current conditions asylum seekers face and, in particular, a major illustrated document which shared a step-by-step analysis of the journey asylum seekers take through the system in the UK and which pinpointed the struggles faced within the U.K. asylum system – which is often difficult to fully understand. An illustrated guide gives a clear and simplified image of the system for anyone looking to understand the asylum system in the UK, and provides a briefing document for further spatial intervention.

Through this work City of Sanctuary Sheffield were able to get a better understanding of how contingency accommodation works and the mechanisms people seeking sanctuary employ to exist in these spaces; discovering new spaces where asylum seekers find support and producing some clear resources for others to use that help explain the impact of being forced to live in a hotel for over two years in some cases. These resources will be shared more widely over the coming year.

This project has also begun a collaboration between those involved that will continue through other projects already in development.

Although City of Sanctuary Sheffield were able to shine a light on issues faced in contingency accommodation and further strengthen the case for community-based housing for asylum seekers; they have not had the time within the scope of the project to suggest design proposals to respond to the need. This is ongoing work and their collaboration will continue to work on imagining, reclaiming, and building spaces that advance social justice aims.