FOREWORD TO ‘WELCOME TO SHEFFIELD’ BY THE REVD DR iNDERJIT BHOGAL
I welcome this book and am thankful to David Price for all the research, thought and reflection he has invested in it. It is an informative and invaluable overview of Sheffield’s international population, and shows how people from all over the world have contributed significantly to the social and economic development of the City.
This book is an important contribution to knowledge and will assist with informed discussion especially around contentious migration matters, and help to quell prejudiced opinions.
This book notes that Sheffield has a deep history and mix of people coming to the city from many parts of the world. Sheffield can take pride in a history here of providing welcome, hospitality and inclusion for people who have come to live in the City from far and near.
David reminds us that Sheffield established a Council for Refugees in 1942 to support Jewish refugees, the Northern Refugee Centre in May 1983 to support Vietnamese refugees, and was the first City in Britain to engage with the United Nations Gateway Programme to accommodate refugees sent directly to the UK.
Sheffield has benefitted enormously from the gifts and skills people have brought with them, providing opportunities to increase our working population, strengthening our economic development. The migrant population has brought to the City doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, faith leaders, political leaders and community leaders. Many local councillors and to date three of Sheffield’s Lord Mayors came to live here from other countries and have made strong contributions to the City. We have cuisine from all around the world.
Sheffield was a good place to begin the City of Sanctuary initiative. The City of Sanctuary vision is being emulated in many other contexts. There are wells of lessons and wisdom to draw from the history of Sheffield to share with others. Sheffield can take pride in this.
Many people have come to Sheffield for safety. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] website there were 37.5 million refugees in 2005 and 65.3 million in 2015. This is an unprecedented global reality. The UNHCR Global Trends Report 2015 records that wars, conflicts and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. 90% of the world’s refugees were from countries in or close to conflict, war and violence. This is reflected in the people who have come to live in Sheffield from other countries, as noted in this book.
People will continue to travel from many countries and contexts, overcoming obstacles like walls, frontiers, borders, mountains and waters in search of safety and wellbeing.
This will only stop when nations will stop wars, stop making weapons and instead invest in, and ensure everyone has access to equality, inclusion, education, homes, and hospitals. Everyone wants to live in safety.
David notes that many Sheffield people moved to other countries for a better life. Some left because their political views had put their lives at risk here. He also notes that the majority of Sheffield’s “migrants” have come here from other parts of the UK. In the seventeenth century “foreigner” in Sheffield meant anyone from more than six miles outside the boundaries of the City. In 1851, 36.3% of Sheffield’s population were “foreigners”.
One factor that emerges from David’s research on Sheffield’s migration history is the consistency in the way migrants are treated. There is hospitality and hostility. David’s book challenges us all to reflect on our history, to be alert to the dangers of lingering hostility, and to more creatively strengthen efforts to build a more inclusive City.
David himself has engaged in many campaigns for justice and fairness with people who fall foul of UK immigration procedures and processes. David reflects that within the welcoming nature of the people of Sheffield racism lingers on. There is a “poignant” as well as a “positive” side to the story. Responses to people coming here from other countries vary from heart-warming welcome to blatant racism and anxiety. City of Sanctuary reflects the belief that the most effective change comes from a mobilised grass-roots movement. This is a politics in which the lead comes from people by acting collectively for social cohesion and change. It is located in an easily understood idea that lights up their passion leading to conversations that can grow to change cultures, and is accessible to all. It links local and global concerns across neighbourhoods and networks, and begins to go across geographies giving political meaning to space and place.
Migration has consistently been the hot potato of politics. At the time of writing the national debate has centred on the Windrush scandal which has exposed high levels of discrimination and harassment of people from the Caribbean who were invited  to live and work in the UK. The debate has illustrated hostile and prejudicial environment in which powerless “migrants” have to navigate citizenship in the UK, sometimes up to 70 years and more after arrival here. As Home Secretary in 2012, Theresa May spoke of the aim in the Home Office to create in Britain a “hostile environment” for people without relevant documents. A hostile environment is a crucible of hostility. It is inhuman and inhospitable. The best response at the local level is to work hard to build cultures of welcome and hospitality. Doing this is not a soft option. It is hard work that requires tough resolve and steely resilience.
Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s words adorn the side of a Sheffield Hallam University building. The good sighted can read the words of the poem as they walk in to the City from the Railway Station:
“O traveller from somewhere to here…to wander through the labyrinth of air,
Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff become a priming place which lifts you to speculate…
What if we could all work together to bring our diverse population into shared conversations, even if difficult conversations, on how we can work together to build better understandings, deeper relationships of mutual respect and trust, and come to genuinely accept each other as human beings?
David’s book will help readers to pause and reflect on things we can all do to build on Sheffield’s positive history of welcoming those who come to live here from other countries.
My three challenges listed in this book are:
Be human, and always call others back to their humanity.
Be hospitable, and always call others to express hospitality.
Always challenge hostility. This is done by challenging inhumanity and inhospitality.
The way ahead is to widen and deepen relationships across different cultures, creeds, colours and identities, and together to build cultures where all are welcome, valued, belong equally together and have sanctuary and are safe. In words that come to us from the past, together we can seek the welfare of the City for in its welfare lies the welfare of all. We can be united in building hospitality. All people are human beings with names, stories and deep relationships. All want empathy more than sympathy, respect more than pity. We have fantastic opportunities in our multi-ethnic and plural societies to meet and eat with each other, to share our stories and discover our interconnectedness. We belong to each other. As the old Celtic proverb reminds us: it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.
We all want the best for ourselves. We can work together to ensure the best for all.
Thank you for the book David and all your good contribution in Sheffield as a self-confessed “foreigner”. Your book is a gift, a timely gift. I’m sure it will provoke all readers to think more deeply about the ways we belong to each other recognising that every human being is a gift. Your book calls us to reach out, receive and accept each other like a gift.
This book merits wide readership and will resource positive reflection.
THE REVD DR INDERJIT BHOGAL
NATIONAL PRESIDENT OF CITY OF SANCTUARY