Thursday, 01 December 2016 10:43

Green Lungs Exhibition Launch

During late October and early November, over 50 of our ESOL and drop-in students had the opportunity to go to Cannon Hill Park to take part in the Green Lungs project, an initiative to welcome Birmingham’s new arrivals to the green spaces of the city.

Asylum Seekers in BirminghamDuring the workshops they explored the park, reflecting on its sights and sounds, and of course never missing an opportunity to learn a bit of new vocabulary along the way! It was notable that the students were all struck by this oasis of peace and fresh air in a city they are learning to call ‘home’.

Last Thursday we returned to the MAC for the launch of the exhibition which was created using the students’ words and images. With film footage, pictures and words, and sound installations it represents some of what the students’ experienced during the workshop days.

There is perhaps nothing as “English” as a city park, and yet the Victorians who founded many of them were great explorers and the plants come from all over the world. The students who participated were invited to plant bulbs in Cannon Hill Park, symbolic of their welcome to the city and an invitation to put down roots here and become part of all that the city is.

The launch, as much as the whole project, was a wonderful opportunity for all of those who took part: the students, and those of us lucky enough to accompany them in their discovery of this place.

Asylum Seekers in Birmingham These brief snippets try to paint a picture of the value of the experience:

·       It was amazing to watch several of our students’ faces light up when they saw their photos or their work on the wall. It would be easy to underestimate how precious that representation of their contribution is for those who can feel undervalued by a society who refuses to let them work, or from which they feel excluded by a lack of linguistic ability.


·        It must be so easy for our pre-entry students (absolute beginners) to forget how much they have to contribute, so it was a great pleasure to see one of them not only demonstrating that he was something of an expert when it came to planting, but that he suddenly discovered ways to communicate his knowledge to others. We watched his self-confidence grow before our very eyes.


·        As we walked around the park after planting our bulbs, one of the students turned to ask whether it would be possible to come back and plant trees, saying “Because trees last for a very long time and they would be here even long after we have gone.” Those of us who heard were deeply touched by this desire to leave a mark on this place which has made them welcome. 

We are very grateful to Ampersands Projects, Cannon Hill Park and the MAC for the fabulous opportunity and warm welcome they offered to us throughout the project.

The exhibition is open in the downstairs gallery at the MAC until 31st January. Do take the time to go and see, watch and listen to our students’ work.


Published in St. Chad's Blog
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 12:51

St. Chad’s Sanctuary in Parliament

On 15th November three courageous people, including one of those we have helped here at the sanctuary were given the opportunity to address the “Refugees Welcome?” All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry at the Houses of Parliament. The personal testimonies followed the collection of written submissions to the inquiry. Emma Birks, our Regional Asylum Activist led the Birmingham agencies’ joint submission and arranged for the testimonies to be given through STAR, Student Action for Refugees.

As they told their stories, the reality of seeking asylum in the UK and problems in the support system were laid clearly before the politicians with heartfelt simplicity. In their evidence the refugees who spoke made clear that they wanted to contribute to making life that little bit easier for those who follow them through the asylum system in the UK and the difficult period that can follow the granting of refugee status.

At the end the chairperson, Thangam Debonnaire MP, thanked them for their words and their honesty and assured them that this was not just about writing a report, but the inquiry was borne of a desire to really make a difference to the system. It is very easy for asylum seekers, refugees and those who try to make them welcome to feel that they have been abandoned by the political system. They and we can be reassured that at least some of those in parliament genuinely want to understand the realities and make life better for those caught up in the asylum system. Those of us who have sought asylum, and those of us who have met with and worked alongside them, have very important stories to tell in order to project a different image, a more real image than those seen so often in the media.

What was also abundantly clear in their words was that, where the official systems had failed them or left them confused or feeling unwelcome, it was the voluntary agencies, places like St Chad’s Sanctuary, who had offered them signs of hope, friendship and welcome. 

"The positive impact was from the hosting of volunteering agencies who want to show us the 'real UK'"

“When I was waiting for my papers, I meet wonderful people in St. Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham.  Really wonderful, believe me.  When these problems happened to me, these people are like my big family.  I can pass this hard time with my big family supporting me." 

“ ...What about people who have nobody to help them?”

We have an incredibly important role to play and each and every smile and word of welcome we offer has a value beyond measure. Not that it is all about self-sacrifice … it is also an amazing privilege to journey with so many wonderful people and be invited to be a part of their stories. We should never underestimate what simple gestures of humanity can mean to someone who just needs to know they are welcome here. We should never forget our first vocation is to speak that message to all who enter through our doors.



Published in St. Chad's Blog
Thursday, 01 October 2015 14:38

An Article by Sister Margaret

Here is a piece written by Sister Margaret, and was recently featured in 'The Tablet'

Sister Margaret Walsh, of the Infant Jesus Sisters, who runs St Chad’s, in Birmingham, a sanctuary which helps the constant flow of refugees and asylum seekers that arrive every day, gives an insight into their work

Since our records began, more than 57,000 people have signed in. At the moment about 150 come each week for practical items and a further 150 for English language classes. We have provided over 53,000 items of clothing, more than 10,000 bags of food, and around 3,000 hygiene packs.

Many who come are newly arrived and are still wearing what they wore on their long and hazardous journeys from home. We only see most people once or twice because they are frequently moved elsewhere in the country or may face deportation.

Mohammad, from Syria, joined my religious literacy group last week. In 2012, he barely escaped with his life while living in Damascus and has not had a good night's sleep since he left because he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family.

His journey to Britain took him through several countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. He survived two journeys in dangerously overcrowded boats, one of which capsized but, thank God, all passengers, including three young children were saved.

That journey cost him US$1,500 (£1,000) and he was forced on to the boat at gunpoint. Mohammad is a devout Muslim whose best friend in Syria was a Christian. He enjoys sharing his faith and he listens to, respects and appreciates the faiths of others. He tells me that I remind him of his grandmother whom he loved and admired!


"Mohammad has not had a good night's sleep since he left because

he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family."


We have over 70 volunteers and a full programme of activities five days a week. Thanks to the generosity of benefactors and volunteers, we are able to give practical help, especially to those who are destitute and can offer immigration and welfare advice to a growing number.

We also teach 10 levels of English language including a religious literacy course.

It is a great privilege to offer a welcome and some sanctuary to these lovely people. Asylum seekers come from many parts of the world; few speak English. Every day we meet the most gracious people; they are full of hope and courage despite appalling stories of persecution and loss.

However, many are too heartbroken and beaten down to be cheerful. It can be very difficult for us too because often we can do little but suffer with them.
The widely publicised pictures of Aylan washed up on a Turkish shore have touched the hearts of many and there is now a much greater outpouring of goodwill in our country towards asylum seekers.
The outpouring of support for refugees since the death of Aylan has been 'a miracle'Outpouring of support for refugees since death of Aylan is 'a miracle' (PA)

I have worked in this area for 16 years and the change in public attitudes for the good really is a miracle. Before these heartbreaking images appeared, we often battled with negativity and with the many myths surrounding those who come here for protection.

Aylan’s father, who also lost his wife and an older son in the same tragedy, prayed that their deaths would do some good. I believe his prayers have been answered. A baby found among the reeds by the river Nile changed the course of our ancestors’ history (Exodus 2:3); we continue to hope and pray that Aylan’s tragic death will be spoken of and remembered by generations yet to come.

As the time goes on, we are welcoming back those we helped in the early days. They come to say thank you and so often they tell us that we are their only family in the UK. Always they want to give a helping hand. They are full of gratitude. It is very humbling to be part of their journey; we have entertained many angels since we decided to welcome people here.

In the words of Pope Francis: “They are men and women like us, our brothers and sisters; hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war – seeking a better life, seeking happiness.”

St Chad’s Sanctuary is a charity that relies entirely on donations to continue its work. Visit their website at for more information

Published in St. Chad's Blog
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 13:29

The Sanctuary Summer School: A week of fun and activities!

Asylum Seekers in BirminghamLast week, the Sanctuary held its yearly Summer school. The school provides an opportunity for our students and volunteers to come together, have some fun and try something new outside of our normal timetable. It was a week of varied, creative and some unusual activities. Monday hosted poetry and craft workshops in which the students were able to express themselves and create beautiful glass artwork. Games for beginners took place on Wednesday and on Friday our students enjoyed Jam making and guitar lessons. Whenever the activities were not taking place, there were games and refreshments available so people could sit, relax and bond. 
Tuesday and Thursday were a little different. On Tuesday, we all jumped on a coach and headed over to the National trust site Hanbury Hall. As we drove out of the city and into the Countryside our students were so happy to see animals and lots of greenery, reminding many of their homes. We were welcomed by the volunteers at Hanbury Hall and enjoyed a musical picnic as our Jesuit friends played instruments and sang to entertain us all on what turned out to be a beautiful summer’s day. We spent the day exploring the gardens and the hall before travelling back into the city to finish off the week!
Thursday was our big day! We all celebrated the end of the ESOL year and awarded the students their certificates during the annual summer BBQ. We prayed for good weather, and clearly fortune was on our side as the glorious sun shone throughout the entire day! The day was held at the Archbishop’s beautiful and colourful garden, which was filled with our 

students, regular visitors, benefactors and friends. We were lucky enough to be joined by some young people from NCS The Challenge. The young
 people entertained everyone with their drumming and singing and even started an impromptu and highly competitive game of football with our students. Alongside the wonderful sunshine and games, we feasted on BBQ food until the presentation ceremony began. Each student was awarded their certificate and the ceremony closed with one of our students asking to say a few words. He pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper and began to share his dreams of being able to read and write in English. Here he was in front of everyone, reading a speech exclaiming how grateful he was for all the help he’d had; help which allowed this very poignant moment to happen. Never had we heard such an applause and we ended the day with warm hearts and happy faces, already looking forward to next year’s BBQ. 
Each year both volunteers and students say the Summer School is a great way to be able to spend some time with each other and get away from the usual busy week at The Sanctuary. This year we felt this was so true and so important, that we have decided to incorporate some aspects into our new and revised timetable (to be released soon) to ensure we keep the feel good factor all year round. 
To everyone that was involved in any way in the Summer School, thank you for making it such a fantastic week and anyone who was unable to come, there’s no excuse for next year!
Published in St. Chad's Blog
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 06:49

Open Evening

The St. Chad's 'Open Evening' will soon be here, so now is the time to put it into your diary.

st chad's open day for asylum seekers

Published in St. Chad's Blog
Friday, 06 March 2015 12:31

Safe Storage at St Chad's Sanctuary

A big thank you to Eric and The Office Furniture Warehouse in Birmingham for their fantastic donation of a metal storage cupboard. It will be used to store our academic textbooks while not in use, keeping them safe and sound!


St Chad's Sanctuary cupboard

Thursday, 11 December 2014 00:00

A scared and tired father

A scared and tired father


A scared and tired father

A woman pregnant and in pain

An uncertain future for an unborn child

Who’ll face anger, exclusion, and disdain

Behind a census of statistics

We still hide the human face

Of a desperation that dares to dream 

- That begs of another, grace.

But that one who said he had nothing,

There’s nothing here left to give

Was it in putting a face to a number he knew

You deserved not just to survive but to live?

And when he stretched an open hand

Did God’s kingdom touch this earth?

And is this still an incarnation moment

When we dare believe in the other’s worth?

When we smile ‘come in and welcome’

To those whose lives are tattered and torn

In these the tiniest glimmers of hope 

– Each day anew the Messiah is born.



by Stephanie Neville


A poem by Steph Neville, a St. Chad's Sanctuary volunteer



Published in Reflections
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 00:00

A Few Reflections


Steph at St Chad's Sanctuary

Steph’s Poem

Being with the ESOL students at St Chad’s has inspired the following poem. I’m not sure, really, I have the right to write from the perspective of an asylum seeker, after all, what would I know? But with that proviso, and in the hope that those who have lived the experience for real would understand that I hope to express something in support of them, not belittle their experiences, here it is:


-Am I here ?

I am here

And in amongst
The cold grey concrete
Is a silence
Which does not sing
Like the warm red dust
Of home

That offered hope
That does not seem
So golden as it looked
When glimpsed
From in amongst
My shattered
war torn

And will you look
And try to see
That I am me
Just me

Or will you turn
Your eyes away
From all I’ve lived
And loved
And lost

And will you hear
My children’s tears
For what they hoped
And dared to dream
That cannot be

Or will you turn
Your ears away
From faltered words
That cannot say
All I have brought
And wish to

And all is cold
So cold
As I stand hunched
Against harsh grey skies
Of biting wind
And bitter, angry fear

You hold
A hand out to me
And speak
A whispered breath
Of warmth
And welcome

When you notice
That I
Just I
I am here

by Stephanie Neville



Blessed Nicolas Barré

Nicolas Barré founder of the Infant Jesus Sisters was born in France on October 21st 1621.  He was educated by the
Jesuits, joined the Order of Minims of St. Francis of Paola and ordained priest in 1645.  He died in Paris on May 31st 1686

17th century France suffered the ravages of war, a terrible plague and in 1662, when the Institute of Infant Jesus Sisters had its beginnings, half the children in Rouen died of famine.  Many were homeless and wandered the streets as beggars and for some, prostitution was the only means of livelihood.

Nicolas Barré was very concerned about those who were ‘far from God’ and very disadvantaged.  He saw the need to make basic education more accessible to all. Nicolas deplored what he considered to be a great evil: the lack of education and learning.  There were hardly any schools for girls and very few for boys. Most primary school teachers were poorly educated and religious education was almost non-existent; there was profound ignorance of the gospel.

Nicolas invited others to join him in meeting this need and the first non- fee paying school was opened near Rouen in 1662. He urged his teachers not to wait until pupils arrived at the school; they were to seek out especially those who might have been at risk.   He also set up Trade Schools so that girls could earn their living.  Again, the education offered was to be entirely free and any profit derived from the pupils’ work was to go to them.

Nicolas encouraged the first members of the Institute to offer human and spiritual support in a variety of ways depending on the needs of those they met.  He encouraged them to go out to people in their surroundings; to find those who had lost direction in their lives and to look after people who were sick and abandoned.  He led them in ‘prayer of the heart’ by contemplating the mystery of a God who out of love for humanity became ‘even a little child’.  This way of praying deepened their humility and their abandonment to the will of the Father in union with Christ.  The history of the Institute up to the present day bears testimony to an amazing spirit of courage and daring born from this dependence on Providence, especially when its members are faced with what may seem like insurmountable obstacles!  Here is one of my favourite quotes from his writing:

‘It is in the valley of the greatest misfortune and tears that God is pleased to bring the soul to the heights – heights that reach even the infinity of God’s greatness.  Experience shows that one can see the stars shining more brightly from the bottom of a well than in full daylight from the ground above’.  (R.R.)

The work of Nicolas Barré is carried on today by the international Institute of Infant Jesus Sisters and by lay women and men who are inspired by his spirit.  Nicolas Barré was beatified on March 7th. 1999.

Margaret Walsh IJS (Infant Jesus Sister)  (October 2012)


For further information:




Novena to the Holy Spirit:


After his resurrection from the dead and before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples tostay in the city until they are‘clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24:49)

Faithful to the Lord’s wishes, the disciples returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where ‘they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14). When the day of Pentecost came, the promise of the Father was fulfilled and ‘all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:4).

To be a follower of Christ, we, like the first disciples, need to be clothed with power from on high, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday falls onMay 19th this year. Beginning today, May 10th, we might wish to return to our own special ‘upper room’ and make a Novena of prayer leading up to this celebration.



Let us pray:

Divine Being, in possession of my soul,

Holy Spirit, hidden in my inmost being,

Sacred Flame, consuming from within my bones,

Spirit of the spirit of my flesh,

No longer need we search for you abroad,

since you surround us on all sides,

and are present in the very depths of our being.

We imagine you as dwelling in the highest heaven,

yet you are to be found here among us

in the lowliest places. (Nicolas Barré: Spiritual Canticle 1)

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

And kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

And you will renew the face of the earth.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of your faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise, and ever rejoice in your consolation.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Published in Reflections
Friday, 26 September 2014 11:37

A poem by one of our Asylum Seekers, Agnes.

Agnes Tanoh is a regular attender at Sr. Margaret’s BSOL (Bible for Speakers of Other Languages) class. The class have been studying the Lord’s Prayer, and were asked to write their own versions of it for homework.


A word to my God.


Why can’t I overcome?

These are the questions I ask myself daily.

Even though times are hard,

In this difficult situation,

I have taken the decision to have confidence in You.

You are the same today and tomorrow,

You are faithful for you have never let me fall.

This is why I have never doubted You

You provide for my needs according to Your generosity.

You are my support, my refuge and my stronghold

Apart from You, I have no one else to call on

Even if everything is hard, I have decided to believe in Your word.

YawheJire, you will provide.

Glory to You for all eternity. Amen


by Agnes Tanoh

Published in St. Chad's Blog
Friday, 05 September 2014 00:00

Agnes in the Guardian

Thanks to her appearance in the BBC’s Inside Out documentary, one of our regulars Agnes was contacted by the Guardian newspaper. Below is the picture that appeared in their Saturday supplement. Well done Agnes!



Published in In the Media
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