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Keeping busy through Covid

Despite the various Covid lockdowns and restrictions, Leicester City of Sanctuary has continued to support asylum seekers and refugees in Leicester. Many charities are reporting that they’ve remained just as busy as they were before, but they’ve diversified their offerings and had to change the way they’ve been working because of the enormous changes wrought by the lockdown – and we can confirm that it’s our experience!

One of the most important things that we’ve been doing over the past year is continuing to provide an appointment based garden-based drop-in in order to support asylum seekers and refugees, both with vital essentials, and by providing some face-to-face contact. We’ve been running our outdoor sessions in the Unitarian Chapel garden since July 2020 (whenever permissible in terms of Covid restrictions), distributing essentials including vital PPE, which people struggle to afford. We’ve distributed more than 3,000 hygiene items and other essentials to our service users. We’ve operated through sunshine, wind, rain and hail. As well as PPE, we also also distribute toiletries, food items and fresh fruit ‘n’ veg – we’re seeing more than 20 different people a week, and are even managing to inject some fun into the proceedings with social activities such as quizzes and treasure hunts to help new arrivals get into the swing of things and meet others – all from appropriate social distance, of course.

Our support doesn’t just begin and end at the drop-in, though; our dedicated volunteers have been keeping in regular touch with our service users, and have been putting extra effort into the support of families. We distributed toys and other fun activities to almost 40 children over the various holiday periods, and with a bit of help from St. John’s Church we were able to provide Easter Eggs for all the children in the group. Many families sent us videos of the children’s delight on receiving these.

As well as that, we’ve been making sure we help people get out and about by organising group walks in green spaces as well as providing both activities around about planting and growing things. We delivered seeds to people in March to welcome the spring, and have recently followed this up with a face-to-face planting session in the garden, in partnership with The Conservation Volunteers and Leicester Museums.

We’ve sought to provide practical learning skills as well, and these mostly take the form of ESOL classes which are mostly done in conjunction with the University of Sanctuary group over at Leicester University. These have been busy and popular with 99 participants taking part in manageable class sizes of around 12 over Zoom. Our sewing classes, which also offer practical skills, have been face-to-face where possible, and where not, they’ve continued on Zoom. Thanks to donations of machines from the local community, we’ve been able to provide a machine for all the members of the group to allow them to continue with their dressmaking projects at home. Now that restrictions have finally started to ease, the group is back again face-to-face at St. Martins House, which is so much nicer than zoom! More recently, we’ve been able to get our Football groups back out on the pitches on a weekly basis, providing exercise and a team activity. Leicester City in the Community (an outreach arm of Leicester City Football Club), has been helping us out both by supporting these sessions and by holding Soccercise exercise classes at the garden drop-in for those who want to get fit but don’t fancy running around the pitch.

So as you can see, despite the Lockdown, Covid and social distancing requirements, Leicester City of Sanctuary has continued to work hard supporting asylum seekers and refugees, welcoming them into the community and helping them rebuild their lives!