Nations United football – quotes and stories

As part of the recent grant application to Sussex Community Foundation, SiC volunteer Lucia Withers collected some interviews and case studies with those involved in our successful and flourishing football project. They provide some touching insight into the impacts of the project on individuals’ lives…

The project was initiated by a young refugee called Jelani – now Team Captain – with support from other future team members.

Here’s an extract from their proposal in 2017:

We are a group of young men from many countries who have had to flee our homes. We are very pleased to be here in England, and appreciate all the care and support we’ve been given. We are now very keen to form our own football team to help us settle into our new lives here, and would like your help to enable us to do that.

“We want to play football because we love football, and have asked Sanctuary in Chichester to help us do something that we love. We also want to have some fun, whilst we learn English better, and get to meet more people. We have come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Somalia and Albania, but we are one as a group, doing our best to settle into our new home, and wanting to be proud to play in our united football team.

Two years later and Lucia asked Jelani how the football had developed:

He explained how important it has been for the boys, because many of them were quite isolated, staying in their homes and hostels and not getting out much or meeting people. Football has been a vehicle for getting them out and making friends.

It means I know a lot of people now. Everywhere I go I have friends.” This sense of integration took on a new dimension when Chichester University became involved in the project. According to Jelani, the involvement of the student coaches and the regular friendly games against university staff and students has enabled him to get to know a broader group of people – “we have become part of the university,” he explained.

Jelani has taken an active role in welcoming new players and supporting them to participate, including by acting as an interpreter during training sessions for those who don’t yet speak English. In acknowledgment of this role SiC pays Jelani a small weekly stipend. In turn, Jelani attributes this experience in helping him to get his first job in December 2018 as a Business Administration Apprentice for WSCC in which he acts as a liaison point for young refugee and asylum seekers, ensuring that they have access to information about the services to which they are entitled in a language they can understand and helping them to integrate into the community.

Jelani has been a central figure in NU since its inception and still manages to fit in the weekly training sessions and six-a-side match fixtures around his new job and his continuing studies in health and social care. He stressed his appreciation for the project and how hard Steve, Jon and other volunteers have worked for the team: “they always come, even when it’s raining they don’t complain. They have helped us make NU into a team.


Rory Gogarty, host family of Asmerom, a young asylum seeker:

Asmerom was a fearful young man who had experienced torture and had found his way to the UK […] in very dangerous circumstances. He was clearly traumatised and spoke very little English. Apart from providing food and accommodation, we wondered how we might best help him recover and integrate him back into a more normal life.

SiC advised us of the Nations United football club […] When we discussed this with Asmerom, he was very keen to play football and to meet other refugees and we took him along to a practice at the university. I remember it well even though it was a dark raining evening. Importantly, Asmerom was met by friendly faces. There were also other young refugees who spoke his language and I could immediately see Asmerom relax and start to have fun.

Asmerom was keen to continue with the football so we lent him a bicycle and since November last year he has cycled in to the NU training and match sessions just about every Wednesday and Thursday. He loves going. Not only is it the love of football but from my observing Asmerom it is all about the fun and joy he gets in connecting with other young refugees who all have similar stories and so help and encourage one another. […] The friendship and support that Asmerom receives at NU from players and coaches has without doubt helped him to become more relaxed and confident. It has improved his English, provides him with good exercise and has brought both him and us a new set of friends.

In my view Nations United is a gem of an organisation and punches way above its weight in terms of refugee support and social care. It is run in a very reliable and efficient manner, the feedback on matches and the involvement of the university students is brilliant as this helps the young refugees communicate in English with people their own age but from a different culture. We are big fans.

In Asmerom’s words:

When summing up what Nations United meant to him, Asmerom told SiC volunteer Lucia, “NU stands for Love, Help and Hope.” He went on to explain that for him NU is about love because it’s a place where he can meet people and where he and other young refugee/asylum seekers can have fun and make friends. “I am very lucky to play for Nations United. I‘ve made many many friends […] We are friends now and we go places together.

Asmerom said that when he joined the team his English was not very good and he didn’t always understand what the coaches were saying, but now he can and he also speaks English with the other players. He is also really proud of how much his football has improved. “I loved to play football but before I didn’t really know how to play. It’s very complicated – it’s like maths. I’ve learnt a lot from the coaches and my skills are better.  If you play good you feel happy.” He wants NU to get better and better and has high ambitions for the team. “I can see us getting to the top – I think we can be like Manchester United one day!”

In recognition of his skills, Asmerom was recently voted ‘man of the match’ by his teammates and received an award. “I was so excited by that,” he said. But for Asmerom, NU is much more. He told me about the warm welcome that he gets when arrives and the way in which the players support and help each other. He repeated again, “NU means love, NU means help, NU means hope.

Interview with James Harris, recent graduate from Chichester University’s Football Coaching and Performance Degree Course and one of five volunteer student coaches for Nations United.

How and why did you first become involved with Nations United?

“I was actually looking for practical coaching experience so I volunteered immediately when Danny [Senior Lecturer and Football Coaching and Performance Programme Lead] invited volunteers – I didn’t know anything about it and had no idea what to expect beyond the fact that it would be working with refugees.”

How has the project developed over the 11 months you have been involved?

“At the start it was quite chaotic; there was no real consistency in who turned up and most of those who did spoke only Arabic. They really didn’t know what to expect from us and we didn’t know what to expect from them. We had to be really reactive and in some ways go back to basics to find things that they could do and enjoy.”

“There’s much more consistency now – there is a core of players who come regularly and you can see that there are stronger connections between them. Now there is a solid base it is easier to incorporate new players when they turn up. Recently two younger lads who had been brought along by their carers turned up. They didn’t know anyone but I made a point of using their names so that that they felt part of it and other players heard and used their names too. It’s not always easy, not all of the players speak the same language so whereas the Eritreans and Sudanese find it easy to communicate with each other, some of the lads from other countries can find it more difficult. You can see that the lads living with British families or carers find it easier than those living in hostels – they are more confident.”

What have you learnt from the project?

“It’s certainly helped my coaching skills. I am much more organised and have really learnt to plan ahead and adapt my style of coaching to suit the players. As a student of coaching we use very technical language that the players don’t necessarily understand so we have adapted our language and made it simpler. […] I also think it is really important to be prepared and to show that we take the project seriously so that players feel that they are part of something. So for example, before a match I lay out all the kit so that they can arrive and get changed in the way a professional team would – it is really important to make them feel as if they are part of a real club.” 

Have you learnt more about the situation of refugees/asylum seekers in the UK?

“I had always been kind of sympathetic to the situation of refugees and I knew something about the wars and other reasons that people to become refugees, but I wasn’t someone who was particularly educated in the details. Since being involved in NU and through talking to Jon and Steve [previous volunteer co-leads for the project] I have learnt a lot more about the issue. In fact, NU was the case study for my dissertation so I did a lot of research into the situation in the countries of origin of NU members, the trauma that they have been through and the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in this country.”

What do you think members of Nations United get from their participation?

“The language of football is a shared thing – it is something that the players care about and even if they are not very confident they will talk about that. When they arrive for training we always say “Hi” and ask them how they are doing and what they have been up to and we talk about football – I can see players learning to express themselves. Recently a player approached me to confide some difficulties he was having – I think he felt safe and felt he could speak to me and I was then able to get advice from Steve and Jon on what to do.”

“It is also a lot about helping rebuild identities – having fun but also instilling a discipline that can help them with other parts of their lives. This has been quite challenging and we have not always been certain what to do, but we have found that being quite strict about arriving on time, turning up for training on Thursday if they want to be in a team for the Wednesday league matches, listening when we are telling them something has made a difference. It was difficult for some of them in the beginning but they have reacted positively.”

“The Wednesday matches are also really important for them. To be honest I was a bit worried at the beginning because they are playing teams whose members are often quite a bit older and more experienced than them. But really good things have come out of it – not just when they win matches, but how they get over it when they lose and how they are relating to the other teams. We prep the teams in advance so they know who they are playing and we have encouraged our lads to introduce themselves at the start. We don’t want them to be thought of just as ‘the refugee team’ – we want their opponents to understand who they are – some of the teams are really lovely with them.”

Interview with Danny Potter, Senior Lecturer and Football Coaching and Performance Programme Lead, Institute of Sport, Chichester University

How and why did you first become involved with Nations United?

“I first heard about SiC when an e-mail landed in my in-box in early 2018 asking if the University would be interested in providing facilities for a SiC-supported football project with young refugees. I was immediately interested so I met with Jon Bowra and Steve Gough the two co-organisers of the project and was really inspired by what they were trying to do.  We just clicked – we had the same vision and shared the same ideas about how football can help people who have been through difficult experiences.

I firmly believe in equality and providing everyone with the opportunity and freedom to participate – participation is as important as success. I also believe in the importance of community and of community engagement in supporting the most vulnerable. Football is a universal language – on one level it is easy and on another it is highly complex – everyone can take part. This project was a way of putting into practice my beliefs and applying my expertise and experience as the lead for Chichester University on football coaching and delivery.”

Have you ever been involved in anything similar?

“Previously I ran a big project to support participation in football of homeless people and people in care so I was already familiar with working with vulnerable people. In many ways though, the members of Nations United are the most vulnerable people that I have worked with – they have faced incredible difficulties in their lives and even now their situations are very complex. This creates particular challenges that we have to be really alert to.”

How are you and Chichester University supporting Nations United?

“After an initial conversation with Steve and Jon we just hit the ground running. We have been able to offer a safe space for the members of Nations United to come together to train and play football – that includes access to the university’s AstroTurf and indoor facilities when it’s raining, but also a classroom where they can meet before the training and where we take registers, check they’re okay and the student coaches talk to them about what they are going to learn that day. It’s important to be able to offer this safe, non-threatening space for them.”

“But discussions quickly moved on from support with facilities to a whole range of other things. Right from the start we were able to offer expertise on delivering football. We also have a student body which is really interested and involved. This includes the student coaches who are all undergraduates studying to be professional football coaches and who have volunteered to deliver once-a-week training sessions as well as to support NU’s participation in competitive football matches. But the student involvement is much broader than that. So for example, we have had the involvement of students who are studying sports media and running sporting events. There’s a lot of interest on the research side too including in developing a better understanding of the benefits of this type of project – learnings that we can build on in the future and hopefully share with others. And of course NU is playing in the university’s six-aside league which takes place every Wednesday evening during term time and means they are meeting with and playing staff and students. It’s really snowballed – the more the students get involved the more others get interested and want to be involved too.”

“Absolute key to this is the support I have had from the University’s leadership. This is all extra-curricular work, but the Vice Chancellor has been behind it from start – this sort of engagement fits perfectly with how the University sees itself in the community and its core values.”

What has it meant to you personally to be involved in this project?

“It’s meant a lot to be involved. I feel really fortunate and have learnt an incredible amount about the lives of these young people and the issues that they are dealing with. It is great to be able to use my expertise to help. The only issue is for me is not having the time – I would like to do even more with them. I am trying to get round that by supporting our students to get involved so that they develop an understanding of the positive role that football can play in society.”

What do you think it means to the members of Nations United?

“It has been amazing watching the young people over the last year – they have really grown and there is more of a buzz. I think they feel that they are part of club and I can see that friendships have been built between them – they often used to come individually and not communicate with each other so much, but now they arrive in groups and chat and laugh. It is also great that we have players that have been here from the start who help welcome and support new members.”

“But it’s more than just the relationships between the players. At the start the coaches were very hesitant and not sure what was expected of them, but I’ve seen them becoming more empathetic and adapt their style of coaching so that it works for these players. They have really grown and it is good to see how the players relate to them and vice versa.  The players have also become part of our community of staff and students on the campus – you can see the mutual respect. Their integration into the life of the university has been a real high point for me – it is one of the reasons the project is so important.”

How do you see the project developing over the next year and what are the main challenges?

“The numbers of players who turn up to training and who want to play matches is growing steadily and we want to be able to support that growth. We want to strengthen the sense of being part of a club including through giving the young players more opportunities to play in competitive matches including local leagues. This is complicated both because of safeguarding but also there are particular legal issues for refugees, but we are talking to the FA about how to resolve this. We are also having discussions with SiC about how we can deliver sport for women and girls – not necessarily football but something that gives them the same opportunities.”

“Sustainability is probably our biggest challenge. SiC relies on volunteers and, as I said, my involvement is also over and above my professional role in the university. It is important for us to put in place structures to ensure that we can keep the project going in the long-run.”

Testimonial from Jon Bowra, Co-founder and previous member of Nations United’s co-ordinating group

It is a few days after Christmas 2017, and I check my emails. A friend has forwarded a message from a voluntary group [Sanctuary in Chichester] that supports refugees and asylum-seekers. They have recently had a number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children come to their drop-in sessions expressing an interest in football and were inviting anybody interested to engage with and support this group, possibly to accompany them to a match. I am a retired Social Worker, new to the area, a Chelsea supporter of over 50 years standing, and a regular non-league football watcher due to my three sons’ involvement. It appears that I am the only person to respond to this email!

A few days later I am at the drop-in session getting to know some of the young people who had expressed an interest. I also meet the vice-chair of the organisation [Steve Gough], and between us we decide there and then to do something. Steve and I write a project outline immediately, and so starts the journey.

It was January 2018 that myself and Steve found ourselves standing on a very windy and cold astro pitch hired from Chichester College, wondering who might turn up. As it happened, we were amazed at the turnout, and our limited coaching skills and arthritic knees were put to the test! Sanctuary were able to provide some financial input, which was soon stretched as increasing numbers of people turned up wanting to play, but did not possess astro boots. We went on crowded shopping trips to the local sports shop, and bought astros for over 30 players.

After lengthy discussions with the players we agreed upon the team name Nations United, and so we had an identity. We were soon featured in the local press, and amazingly a local county league team then came forward and offered us their kit from the previous season. So we had a name, some kit, players, and then we had a friendly against a local team of adults. Our team of fifteen to eighteen year olds won the game 7-2. Nations United was born!

Our costs soon started to increase alarmingly. Myself and Steve met with Danny Potter, Senior Lecturer in sport at the university’s Institute of Sport, and he fully bought into our initiative, and subsequently took a key active role in terms of engaging with Nations United’s planning, and the ongoing development of good practice, and visions for the future. As a result, a level of partnership was formed that enabled the project to have regular free access to a 3G pitch, consistent empowering and supportive input from student coaches completing their coaching degrees, as well as ongoing input of expertise from a range of university staff.

Additionally, because of this partnership, Nations United has been able to participate in six-a-side leagues run by the university on their campus, host their own tournaments, and create a sense of safety and continuity for the players coming to training sessions. The regularity of training and matches enables a sense of stability and trust to build up, whilst the skilled input of the student coaches in terms of support, guidance, and accompaniment, creates a beneficial environment that assists participants to recover from their traumas of travelling to, and settling in, the UK, and begin to start establishing their lives here.

We view the players not just as vulnerable victims, but as human beings with considerable capacity, varied talents, and potential. We are also mindful of the value of creating a welcoming non-judgemental, non-hierarchical, and non-comparative environment in terms of football ability. To this end we are particularly keen to promote their voice in all that the project does, and truly embody a sense of collaboration and partnership that recognises and respects their identity and abilities. This is not always a straightforward ambition, often because the players are not necessarily used to their views being valued and listened to, and also because of language difficulties. We have a range of languages spoken by players from over 14 different countries, and sometimes struggle to access appropriate translation resources.

Over the last year we have developed partnerships nationally with the F.A., and are members of their diversity and inclusion network, and with Amnesty International, being keen supporters of their Football Welcomes initiative, as well as looking at developmental possibilities with them. Locally we are fortunate to have established good links with the Sussex F.A., and are co-ordinating with them a refugee forum, and have also established links with the University of Brighton, Portsmouth F.C. , and the Russell Martin Foundation.

All this has been primarily achieved by unpaid volunteers. However we recognise that just because we are volunteers, we cannot be any less professional in our approach than our partner organisations, and have striven to develop good practice around our planning meetings, decision-making, record keeping, budgeting, and the development of an achievable set of strategies for future development. From the basis of this approach we were delighted that we have been able to establish a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Chichester, which clarifies the focus of our partnership work, and recognises the credibility and value of the work that Nations United does.

One area that we want to do better in is promoting the involvement of women and girls from a refugee and asylum-seeking background in playing football. We are working closely with the University and Amnesty International to see how this can be facilitated. We are also actively exploring how to encourage and support female student coaches from the university to have input into the current Nations United team.


It has been widely recognised in many academic studies that involvement in football can be fundamentally a force for good in enhancing the wellbeing of both men and women, and boys and girls, from a refugee and asylum-seeking background. It is also recognised that football can contain less favourable elements, which Nations United is keen to not expose our players to. However when considering the potential positive impact of football involvement, it would appear to be a particularly relevant time in the midst of the current political and social climate of uncertainty, and indeed significant levels of harassment and hostility, to promote an initiative like Nations United, where a place for the presence of dignity, compassion and integrity, can be a consistent empowering baseline from which to build a healthy and happy life.

As facilitators of this project we would want to acknowledge that we have drawn much satisfaction from seeing the enabling effects of playing football releasing Nations United players into being able to express a sense of fun and enjoyment, build friendships, and have that brief moment of letting go of some of the challenges that they continually face. There is however much more work to be done, and many more issues to understand and engage with, in the hope that Nations United can continue to build on its empowering and facilitating role.

Nations United provides opportunities for refugees to play regular football and to become part of a community

Thank you to Jelani, Rory, A, James, Danny and Jon for these valuable contributions, and to Lucia for recording them.

If you’d like to get involved in the football project or developing activities for girls, please email Gemma Driver at

Welcome to our new Chair, Tony Toynton

Tony Toynton, Chair of Sanctuary in Chichester

Tony Toynton, Chair of Sanctuary in Chichester

A warm welcome to our brilliant new Chairperson, Tony Toynton! He has brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is dedicated to supporting refugees and asylum seekers to thrive in in their new lives in West Sussex.

I am honoured and delighted that the Board of Trustees have elected me as their new Chairman. Roger Pask will be a hard act to follow as he did such a fantastic job setting up Sanctuary in Chichester and all that it has done so far. Now that Sanctuary in Chichester is fully established as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation I see my role as making sure it is properly governed and financially secure for the future. I have been hugely impressed with the work so far, I have some new ideas that I hope to share at the upcoming AGM and I commit to doing all I can to ensure that all of our refugees and asylum seekers are given the best opportunities to become fully integrated into their new adopted communities in and around Chichester.”  – Tony Toynton, August 2019.

We’ve had a few other changes in SiC’s team recently – Read more…

SiC team news

You may know that we have a fantastic new Chairperson, Tony Toynton, but there are a few other changes around Santuary Towers (an entirely virtual venue for now)…

You’ll no doubt be pleased to know that Roger Pask, the well-loved outgoing Chair and SiC founder, is still a Trustee. He continues to be active in the organisation, and now focuses on accommodation and supporting Appeal Rights Exhausted asylum seekers.

Gemma Driver replaced the much-missed Tazmin Mirza, as Development & Communications Coordinator, and is available Monday – Thursday every week;

Rebecca Zeman is stepping down from her role as Trustee and Fundraising Committee (FRC) Chair. Having given her all on SiC’s fundraising since the organisation was founded, she felt it was time to hand over to someone new. Rebecca was an outstanding FRC lead and oversaw considerable successes within a short space of time, including SiC recieving charitable status and a number of grants. Thank you Rebecca, you will be sorely missed! Looking ahead, the FRC has a bright future, with Tony Toynton taking up the reins as lead.

Duncan Barratt is in the process of becoming our Trustee leading the Nations United football project. Thank you to Steve Gough and Jon Bowra, who both left recently having worked so hard and given so much to setting up and running the initiative. Duncan will work with Danny Potter, the football lead at the University of Chichester, who manages the student coaches training the players. We’ve just had news of a 3-year grant for the football project, from the Sussex Community Foundation, which will allow us to develop it and related activities. Read more about the funding and the impact of the project on young refugees and asylum seekers…

Finally, here’s an ‘organogram’ of SiC, so you can see who does what in the organisation. This diagram is live and constantly evolving.

Refugee talks & activities in schools

As part of Refugee Week 2019, three refugees in our network kindly gave talks at local schools about their experiences. Children heard about why the refugees had to leave their homes, how they got here and their experiences of living as refugees in the UK.

The children then enthusiastically embraced an art activity, in which they created cut-outs of their hands decorated with messages of welcome and support to be passed on to all the refugees and asylum seekers in our network.

Helen Floyd, our schools volunteer, then read out some of the clearly heartfelt messages at one of our drop-ins. It was really touching and pretty emotional to hear the children’s kind and caring sentiments.


Helen felt the school visits went really well; “The students responded well, asking good questions and showing a respectful interest in wider issues concerning refugees. […] The children were extremely responsive and enthusiastic and there was a very positive atmosphere.  I think the whole session proved to be very affirming for the guests and gave many beneficial learning opportunities for the class.

Anya Walters from WSCC attended too, and she also reported that, “The questions the children asked were respectful, thoughtful, and showed they cared and empathised with refugee experiences. Clearly they had some grounding knowledge, which was great to build on, surprising them with just how many people are refugees seeking safety across the world, and how there are and have been talented refugees for thousands of years!

With so many of the boys fist-bumping Jelani at the end, I think he’s a local famous football player who happens to also be a refugee, what a great way for them to see how we are all the same, with talents and hopes.

Thank you to those who gave the talks – it isn’t easy to speak publicly about painful experiences – and thank you to Helen for organising these valuable events, and to the schools for hosting them.

Volunteers Needed!

Sanctuary in Chichester is a voluntary organisation and we are expanding, so there are lots of aspects of our work we need help with. We are growing so that we can meet the needs of some new refugees and asylum seekers who will be arriving in Chichester in the next couple of months. We’re also developing our existing activity streams and some new ones (e.g. Pathways to Work), so we need an injection of expertise and support.

Here are some specific volunteer roles we are trying to fill, but do feel free to suggest any other areas you might be able to help us with:

English tutors, to teach English to people of various ages, origins and languages. We offer formal English lessons and informal English conversation, as well as home tutoring. This is probably our most important workstream, and our dedicated, hard-working tutors do an incredible job, but we are now up to capacity and badly need to find some new ESOL teachers.

Qualified psychologists & counsellors, to support our service users, some of whom are suffering severe and debilliating trauma. There is no help for asylum seekers with mental health diffiuclties provided by the Government. We do not have any volunteer psychologists or counsellors at present so anyone able to offer regular sessions or even one-off sessions would be very warmly welcomed!

Management positions – we would particularly love to hear from anyone who arrived in the UK as a refugee or immigrant and are now settled, and especially those from Africa and the Middle East.

Pathways to Work:

  • Companies or sole traders that can offer work experience, internships, short-term work or indeed jobs to refugees living locally. (Asylum seekers can work on a voluntary basis; those with refugee status can take formal paid work.)
  • Mentors – whatever sector you work in or have experience of, you may be able to support a refugee into work.
  • Expertise – we’d like to find people with expertise in specific areas of work, e.g. events organising, health & safety and admin, so that we can support our service users to volunteer for us whilst learning how to carry out the work. Refugees and asylum seekers usually have professional experience already, but lack the knowledge of how things work in the UK, and the specific English vocabulary for their sector.

Drop-ins & social:

  • Outings organisers
  • Organisers for drop-in activities
  • External presenters
  • Benefits and Universal Credit advisors

Interpreters & translators – Punjabi, Dari (& Farsi), Pashto, Tigryna, Arabic.

Painters & decorators, to prepare housing for newcomers.

Fundraisers, to join our friendly Fundraising Committee. We meet once a month, and are acheiving great things, so it’s a very rewarding group to be involved in. We’re particularly hoping to find people to help us run fundraising events and source funding for specific projects.

Emergency accommodation, for asylum seekers. We often need to find somewhere for people to stay at short notice, so we aim to build a small database of people willing to help with rooms, in whatever capacity suits the host.

And finally…

Sanctuary in Chichester needs a home! We are exploring possibilities for renting or acquiring a property in Chichester, to provide housing for asylum seekers and an office of SiC. We’re open to discussing various funding solutions and would be pleased to hear from anyone who may have a suitable property or is interested in supporting this venture, financially or otherwise.

Email Gemma Driver on if you’re interested in volunteering or would like to know more.


Summer Outings 2019

Our weekly drop-ins were replaced with fabulous outings over the summer. Here are our volunteers’ reports…


The sun shone and there was great excitement as 50 of us set off on a really successful SIC Boat Trip around Chichester Harbour, leaving from Emsworth Pier. Some came in cars, some on the bus. The advance planning by the SIC drop-in team meant that everyone arrived with plenty of time to enjoy the harbour and meet and greet each other.

It was wonderful to have such a happy crew of all ages and various nationalities on board the Solar Enterprise. The children went straight to the front of the boat and really enjoyed using the binoculars to take a closer look at the birds, boats and windsurfers. And we tried locating all the local areas on the map. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to help the children learn new English words and engage in fun and natural conversation. The joy on their smiling faces showed that it was real adventure for them.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups began handing around tasty treats and again, it was a chance for easy conversation and sharing of cultures as we discussed the flavours of foods ranging from fudge to sunflower seeds. As the boat is solar powered, it was beautifully quiet which meant that we could all hear each other. Indeed, some of the Syrian men began singing Sea Shanties much to the delight and amusement of everyone.

It was a treat to be out on the open sea with the light sparkling on the water and the breeze blowing in our faces. But some of the refugees wanted to know more about the harbour and the history of the area. So, Walid kindly offered to be an interpreter and worked with the guide to share anecdotes and local facts about this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

We were all surprised when the boat began heading back to Emsworth Pier. The hour went so quickly, and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone on board. These outings may take a lot of organisation and planning, but they bring a real sense of community for our service users and volunteers, and a deepening of friendships through shared experiences.

– Mary Atkinson, August 2019


We all met at St Peter’s church hall, East Wittering, which made a great place to gather and wait for everyone – and shelter from the rain! Ellen served tea and coffee, and the children played games on the grass outside in between the showers. We were on the beach by 1pm, just as a heavy shower had passed. Apart from the odd spot of rain, it wasn’t wet again until we packed up at 5pm.

Food was shared as usual, including Syrian homemade sesame biscuits, baked for Eid.


It was great having the help of Tom, the minibus driver, he was getting all the children together on the sand playing games. Sally brought volleyball, kites and various other beach-friendly games. The tide was out all afternoon, and by 4pm the sun was shining and the little children were having such fun paddling in the warm shallow pools, nobody wanted to go home!

– Mary Downy, August 2019


We had a few afternoons at Priory Park, which were essentially ‘Drop-In at the Park’ with our usual lovely food-sharing as a picnic but with the addtion of lots of games. Here are reports from two of the Priory Park days:

Huge display of food and drink! Penny brought a skipping rope (washing line!) – and the kids loved trying to skip – which was followed by a tug of war. One volunteer brought a whole suitcase full of games and Rosemary arrived with a trolley of park games!

 – Ellen Thompson, July 2019


Priory Park was busy with young families, babies and toddlers when I arrived. A few of us sat and shared Linda’s home cooked pastries, until Helen organised us to play cricket.
We were so lucky with the weather, there were some threatening clouds after 5pm but before that there was a cool wind but it remained dry with even some sun.

– Mary Downy, August 2019


Thank you to Sanctuary for this great opportunity“; “Really it was a great time“; “I learnt so much” – these were just some of the positive comments from three young refugees and asylum seekers – all students – who joined two volunteers on a day trip to London on 28th June 2019.img_7359.jpg

The day was carefully planned to take in some of the major sights within a budget, and the volunteers provided a healthy picnic. Although one of the hottest days of the year, everyone proved to be very enthusiastic and hardy sightseers! It was a wonderful way of introducing the students to British culture and traditions and it prompted interesting questions, meaningful discussion and comparisons. We all learnt from each other, shared some laughs and started to get to know one other.

We began with The Changing of the Guards and then headed down Bird Cage Walk – to Westminster – and on to Downing Street.  We walked along Whitehall – stopping just under Admiralty Arch where we found a little shade to sit for our picnic. The students were very keen to venture into the National Gallery – and really enjoyed the exhibits they visited. Then the No. 15 bus took us to Tower Hill. We walked down beside the Tower of London to the river – past Traitor’s gate and up to Tower Bridge. We continued on to St Katherine’s Dock for a cold drink before heading to the Underground and on to Victoria.

The following week at the Drop-In, the students were invited to write about their reflections on the day out. It was a group exercise guided by the two volunteers and a purposeful way of learning new vocabulary, practising writing English in the past tense and then reading out loud to others.

In their own words: “My favourite part of the day was the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It was the first time I had been there“; “My favourite painting was by Joshua Reynolds“; “I saw many tourist groups from other countries following their guides“; “I was surprised to see the Prime Minister’s house. It was so small“; “The Guards on Whitehall are not allowed to move or to smile”.


The students continue to talk about their day in London and say they can follow political news programmes with more interest and knowledge.

– Mary Atkinson, August 2019

The Hostile Environment for Appeal Rights Exhausted (ARE) asylum seekers

These are the 9 bullet points made by the Home Office in a letter to all asylum seekers whose first or subsequent claim is refused:

  • You can be detained
  • You can be prosecuted, fined and imprisoned
  • You can be removed and banned from returning to the UK
  • You will not be allowed to work
  • You will not be able to rent a home
  • You will not be able to claim any benefits and can be prosecuted if you try to
  • You can be charged by the NHS for medical treatment
  • You can be denied access to a bank account
  • DVLA can prevent you from driving by taking away your driving licence

Roughly half of all those who receive such a letter who can afford to appeal do eventually win the right to stay, but appeal can take two years or more and the process is intensely oppressive.  Meanwhile the 9 bullet points apply.  This is indeed a very hostile environment. The Home Office maintains for example that Kabul – where 60 people were killed and another 120 seriously injured, while attending a private wedding last week (and where one of our ARE clients comes from) – is a perfectly safe place for refugees to return to.

The appeal rights exhausted refugees with whom Sanctuary currently work have strong reason to believe they will be killed if they return to their respective countries. They are fine young people with much to offer our society in exchange for a place of refuge.

We currently spend £100 per week supporting them (considerably more than we receive in guaranteed donations) and there are more in our area who also need our help.

Is there more that you can do to help these refugees?

– Roger Pask, August 2019

If you would like to support our work with ARE asylum seekers, we would be very grateful for any donations, as well as volunteer expertise e.g. legal advice. Email Gemma on for further details.

Sussex Community Foundation commits to 3 years’ funding for SiC football project

We’re absolutely delighted to report that the Sussex Community Foundation (SCF) have just confirmed a donation of £7000 for 3 years, for our flourishing Nations United football initiative for young asylum seekers and refugees.

Nations United provides opportunities for refugees to play regular football and to become part of a community.jpg

This funding will ensure the team can continue their weekly training and play regularly in competitive football matches, with the security of being able to plan for up to 3 years ahead. Thanks to SCF’s donation, Nations United will also be able to up its game in terms of nurturing the social benefits of the project – we will be able to develop the project and its value as a community for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young men, and young refugees living in the local area.

Nations United serves as a reliable constant in the players’ uncertain lives, a place to meet and a safe space to develop friendships, team work, self-worth, responsibility, aspirations and confidence. A major reason it has been so successful – with around 70 individual players attending over 2 years and around 25 coming to every session – is the serious focus on football training. Nations United, led by Team Captain Jelani and managed by SiC volunteer Duncan Barratt, are trained by student football coaches from the University of Chichester, so the players are getting professional-level training. They also benefit from the University’s superb facilities.

Finally, the injection of funds means we can invest in improved project management (and therefore improved value) and monitoring and evaluation of theSussex Community Foundation logo initiative, so that we can better understand how different aspects of the project affect the players, what works (and doesn’t) and how it could be improved. Professional expertise will be sought within our network of adult refugees living locally, providing them with much-needed work experience, English practice, training and an opportunity to contribute to our community – all pathways into long-term employment.

For more information on Nations United, read our article about how Jelani and the other players started up the project, with quotes and experiences from some of the inspirational people involved.

Thank-you SCF!

Sussex Community Foundation website


20% of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in West Sussex are girls, and we are currently developing a project to support them, along with other young asylum seeking women and young female refugees. We are working on creating something that offers the same level of support and benefits to girls that the football does to boys. We’d love to hear from anyone who might be interested in volunteering on the girls’ initiative, and donations would of course be greatly appreciated. Areas we’re looking for help in include project development, project management, logistics, transport, communications, mentoring, venues and being a reliable presence at girls’ clubs.

Email Gemma at for further details.

We’re a registered charity

Great news: Sanctuary in Chichester is now a charity! We were awarded charitable status in early February, eight months after we applied to the Charity Commission. Our registration number is 1181855.

This marks a new stage in our work to welcome refugees and asylum-seekers in our area. Among other things it means that any donations from supporters who pay income tax at the standard rate will be enhanced by HMRC by 25%. One of our trustees will be contacting all our donors to check the tax status of their gifts, in order to reclaim this Gift Aid.

We’d like to thank everyone for their support in helping Sanctuary in Chichester to get to this point. It’s been quite a haul.

Roger Pask


Sanctuary in Chichester Christmas cards

Looking to support a good cause with your cards this Christmas? Look no further! Sanctuary in Chichester is this year offering gorgeous cards featuring a Sussex rose in frost and a snowy South Downs scene (pictured).

The cards are 15cm x 10.5cm and feature the greeting: ‘Wishing you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year’.

To order cards please email our head of fundraising Rebecca Zeman at, indicating how many cards you would like and which design.

The suggested donation is £5 for a pack of 10. Posted packs will cost an extra £1.75 to cover p&p.