‘Support Group for Women Sanctuary Seekers and their Children’

Liverpool – Awarded £5,000

The Support Group for Women Sanctuary Seekers and their Children provides friendship and acceptance for women sanctuary seekers every week in Liverpool. Led by Jan Macintosh the project aims to promote social inclusion for refugees and asylum seekers and to educate health professionals and others on the specific health needs of the socially excluded and most marginalised in our communities (health in its broadest sense).

sanctuary_seekerOver 30 women attend the group. Their countries of origin vary, often depending on the human rights situation at home. Women and children are particularly vulnerable groups of refugees; recent research shows that women are likely to have suffered, witnessed or been threatened with sexual assault in their country of origin. They are also more likely to be victims of trafficking.

Over the past ten years, Liverpool has become a major dispersal city for the asylum seeking community. However, most Liverpool services are overwhelmed with male clients (it is estimated only 30% of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK are women).

The women attending the group have access to friendship, a welcoming environment with no personal intrusion, acceptance of their lives and their history, warmth, food (to eat and to take away), bus fares, clothes, parties, outings and holidays and a variety of activities including sewing, cooking, photography and art.

The group is run according to the wishes and expressed needs of the participants. For instance, a sewing and knitting group has been set up (with sewing machines), a kitchen is available for those women who want to cook a traditional meal for the group, and they also have the opportunity to participate in as many or as little group activities as they like.

The group is informal and flexible, and volunteers are conscious that the women are often carers of their young children who are welcome to the group. The women informally support one another and are provided with the opportunity to do this. Nevertheless, basic rules of respect, punctuality and courtesy are observed.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

  • Attendance: Women have voted with their feet to attend the group on a regular basis, and in fact, we are over-subscribed.
  • Muslim women appear very comfortable attending this group in a church setting.
  • Children are relaxed in the group and feel free to express themselves.
  • Women value the ‘woman only’ environment.
  • Once refugee status has been granted, the women still keep links with the group. In fact, one woman now volunteers at the group every week.

Jan Macintosh, who leads this group, in her presentation at the ‘Exploring Pastoral Support for Mental Health’ Conference, included very moving photographs from asylum seekers. These came from a photo voice collection made by the sanctuary seekers about their lives and they open the way to deeply meaningful conversations. Jan told us that they have over a thousand photographs and rising!

Some recent quotes from the clients show a great improvement in their mental health:

“It a safe and friendly place for me and my daughter. I can come here and get away from my problems……I enjoy when a group of us get together and cook lunch for everyone; we laugh and sing as we cook…..”

“It is all women, because of my past experiences, I don’t like being with a lot of men, it makes me feel uncomfortable…..”

“…it’s a good place to make friends…It is good to forget your problems for a while.”

“Helpful for learning English…..”

“……The food here is very good……the best meal I have all week.”

“It is important for my daughter to play with other children. We usually stay at home, I like coming here because we can leave the house for a while…..”

To hear Jan talk about ‘Sanctuary Seekers in Liverpool’ please see video below:

To hear Dr O’Neill’s talk about introducing medics to social action projects including the Sanctuary Seekers Project in Liverpool please see video below: