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Norwich Cathedral awarded Cathedral of Sanctuary status and hosts special exhibition for Refugee Week

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Norwich Cathedral has been recognised as a Cathedral of Sanctuary for its work in helping those starting new lives in Norwich.

The Cathedral is one of a handful of Cathedrals to have been granted the status which has been awarded in recognition of the Cathedral’s ongoing commitment to the City of Sanctuary vision of being a welcoming place of safety for all.

The news comes as Refugee Week Norwich launched its 2024 event Our City: Our Home at the Cathedral on Sunday 9 June, shortly after the Cathedral hosted the annual City Service which saw communities from across Norwich join together to celebrate our fine city.

This month the Cathedral is also presenting a special exhibition sharing stories of people seeking new beginnings in Norwich in conjunction with English+.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Dr Andrew Braddock, said: “Norwich has a long history of welcoming the stranger. Norwich Cathedral, working in partnership with English+, is delighted to be recognised as a Cathedral of Sanctuary as part of the wider City of Sanctuary movement.  The Cathedral’s exhibition for Refugee Week celebrates the rich contribution of those from around the world who have made this city their home.”

Marie-Lyse Numuhoza, a Lay Canon of Norwich Cathedral who is originally from Rwanda and who has dedicated her life to promoting peace-building and human rights after she experienced the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, said: “I am delighted Norwich Cathedral has been recognised as a Cathedral of Sanctuary with the City of Sanctuary award. It has joined a growing network of churches, groups and organisations that continue to advocate and promote the culture of welcome for those seeking sanctuary in our communities.”

One of the things the Cathedral was particularly recognised for by the Cathedral of Sanctuary panel was its partnership work with English+, a Christian charity which meets in the Cathedral’s Weston Room every Wednesday and provides English lessons and other means of support to refugees, asylum seekers and others who are starting new lives in Norwich.

English+ has been running lessons at the Cathedral since 2022. This month some of the people who have taken part in these lessons will be sharing their personal stories in an exhibition presented by English+ and Norwich Cathedral called City of Strangers…City of Stories. The free exhibition will be on display in the Cathedral until June 30.

English+ Charity Director Rosie Sexton said: “We are thrilled the Cathedral has been granted Cathedral of Sanctuary status. They have been hugely supportive of English+ and have been hosting our classes since 2022, creating a safe and welcoming place for our students.

“People have loved coming to learn English in such an historic building in the heart of the city, and it has helped them gain a sense of belonging in Norwich. At present we have over 50 learners enjoying our classes at the Cathedral each week. Many former students now volunteer with us or are exploring other ways they can contribute to society in general.

“We have greatly enjoyed collaborating with the Cathedral on their exhibition for Refugee Week, an appropriate celebration of their hard-work and dedication to inclusion and the greater community of Norwich.”

Claire Wood, from Norwich City of Sanctuary, said: “Our Awards panel was particularly impressed by the Cathedral’s collaboration with local charity, English+. This is a fantastic example of how an organisation can support people from refugee, asylum-seeker or migrant backgrounds.

“Their English language students from across the world are welcomed into the classroom space every week by the Cathedral. Many have had tours of the Cathedral and now know that the grounds are open spaces that they can all enjoy, breaking down barriers that might have existed before.

“The Cathedral has been very supportive of this year’s Refugee Week Norwich, kindly hosting its launch party and helping produce an exhibition with English+, sharing stories of people seeking new beginnings in Norwich.”

Alaine Mukene-Drew, from Refugee Week Norwich, said: “Refugee Week Norwich is thrilled that the Cathedral’s ongoing welcoming ethos has been officially recognised with a Cathedral of Sanctuary Award and also that the Cathedral was able to host the launch for Refugee Week Norwich’s celebration of Our City: Our Home.

“The City of Strangers…City of Stories exhibition on display at the Cathedral throughout RWN highlights the journeys of sanctuary seekers who have settled in Norwich – as a representation of the experiences and hopes of refugee, asylum seeker and migrant newcomers to our community.”

In addition to the Cathedral’s work with English+, the panel that granted the Cathedral of Sanctuary status also recognised the Cathedral’s work in a number of other areas including its support for refugee families via the Hope into Action project, its links with the Norwich-based homelessness charity St Martins, its interfaith programme for school visits, and the Cathedral’s overarching ethos that welcome is at the heart of everything Norwich Cathedral does.

Norwich Cathedral is open daily from 7.30am until 6.30pm and the free exhibition City of Strangers…City of Stories will be on display in the Cathedral’s South Transept until 30 June.

Below are two of the stories that feature in the City of Strangers…City of Stories exhibition at Norwich Cathedral.

We are Immad and Nada Alhamwi.

One day, one month or one year? It all started on a dark night where the sun never shined again. We used to have the moon and stars, when suddenly life flipped upside down.

Happiness was stolen and homes were destroyed. However, even after the darkest nights the sun will rise again. New doors open, new chances and new skills to be learnt.

Moving to a new country has a lot of challenges but being surrounded by the right people makes the world a better place. Learning English is one of the challenges that we face but having teachers that direct all their energy and effort to make sure that we are making progress is such a big blessing. Being a part of the English+ family has made our experience much better; it is a place where you can learn, have fun and make friends.

We are Beátriz, Nicolás, Henry and Alexis Sanchez.

We taught our children about love, respect and discipline. Most people think of El Salvador as a place of violence, poverty and dictatorship, but lots of people have potential and talent that are not recognised because of the problems there. Things became treacherous and we had to leave.

In September 2023 our life started again. Our favourite family memory was that Christmas in England, we met good people who made us feel so welcome and gave us sanctuary. We were living with some amazing people and we will always treasure that time.

As a father the change has been profound, I’ve had to overcome a lot of barriers, but we have done it together and with support. My hope is that my kids succeed in this country.

Family, hospitality and the home have always been important, but so was our safety. When you don’t feel safe, your home is full of anxiety, but we have remained united. As a family, we now feel we are in the right place, in a safe place.