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A new initiative called the Spaces of Sanctuary SoS is offering people a safe space to retreat to when needed. The project is the brain child of Portsmouth City of Sanctuary (PCoS) and builds on the City’s proud history of offering shelter to anyone fleeing violence and persecution, or who is isolated and seeking safety.

Spaces of Sanctuary SoS works so that anyone feeling vulnerable at any time can reach out and ask for shelter from any of the locations taking part in the project and who are displaying the SoS symbol.

Portsmouth City of Sanctuary is part of the national City of Sanctuary movement, and is partnering with two other local organisations to deliver the SoS initiative: Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme and Portsmouth Dignity Network.

Malcolm Little Chair of Portsmouth City of Sanctuary said: “The idea is a simple one that seizes on the widely felt appreciation that Portsmouth is unique in its sense of community. It aims to offer anyone, whether they are being verbally or physically abused or intimated, whether they feel suddenly frightened or panicky, for whatever reason at all, a place where they will find a welcome and a friendly face with no judgement or repercussion.”

Businesses, faith groups, educational establishments and others are being offered training so that they can support people in the simplest way: to offer them a place to be where they can take as long as it takes to catch their breath and feel calm again. If needed the volunteers can access a network of support agency that they can contact in agreement with the person that has come to them for refuge, but this may not always be necessary.”

Spaces of Sanctuary SoS looks to consolidate the tangible goodwill in the City by engaging with both the private and public sectors in support of the City’s most vulnerable people. Initial surveys carried out in 2020 by Portsmouth City of Sanctuary identified that whilst the majority of people are willing and wanting to offer support to fellow residents, they are conscious that they might end up making a bad situation worse by doing the wrong thing. The SoS initiative will address that by training people and empowering them to take right steps

Harriet Evens, the force behind Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme said: “The Pompey Safe Space Scheme (PSSS) works to establish a network of city-wide safe spaces for victims of sexual assault, sexual violence and domestic abuse, and so a collaboration with Spaces of Sanctuary SoS makes so much sense. We want to ensure that whoever you are, if you find yourself vulnerable and in need of a safe space, one is available for you. It’s about helping all residents to feel safer in this City and about guiding people towards the best support available.”

Portsmouth Dignity Network provides ‘Protecting Dignity Training’, and they will be working with PCoS this summer to provide free training to any businesses or organisations wishing to take part in the SoS initiative.

Anna Flynn, Managing Director and founder of Portsmouth Dignity Network with over 20 years’ experience of working with the community, said: “I truly believe that delivering services that put people at the centre is essential to effectively achieve the outcomes of all involved. Identifying agencies with aligned values who seek to serve the same needs of the community, is vital for meaningful impact and creating change.

I am so pleased to have found this perspective within the fold of Portsmouth City of Sanctuary, and very much look forward to contributing to the joint vision, for setting a standard of excellence, and ultimately to support Portsmouth to be an even kinder community.”

In addition to developing the Spaces of Sanctuary SoS initiative PCoS is working to bring key stakeholders together from across Portsmouth, including the Lord Mayor. Acting on the shared values of inclusion, respect, dignity and participation, it is working with doctors’ surgeries to establish safe spaces, developing refugee care-leaver projects and sourcing social work/ law student placements. PCoS volunteers run the ‘Welcome Box’ initiative that greets asylum seekers dispersed to the City, conversation clubs, English language learning facilities and various other support that helps people engage with their new surroundings.

Building on the idea that integration is key, PCoS has developed with partners a local resident and refugee gardening initiative. One of the key achievements of 2021 is the setting up of a women only drop-in service that will, for the moment, only cater to women at high risk but over time plans to extend the service to provide a much-needed space for all women.

PCoS has been instrumental in bringing the City together around its compassionate values, and the SoS project is an extension of that, reaching out to local businesses, public offices and the entire community of Portsmouth as a whole, casting the support network city-wide.

Can you and your colleagues offer kind words, a glass of water and friendly face? If you own a local business or organisation and think that you might be able to operate as a venue offering a safe space for someone in need, please get in touch. Email Shaun at [email protected]

For further information about the Spaces of Sanctuary SoS initiative –

Shaun Martinez email: [email protected]

Malcolm Little email: [email protected]

For further information about Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme – Harriet Evens

email: [email protected]

For further information about Portsmouth Dignity Network – Anna Flynn

email: [email protected]

Portsmouth City of Sanctuary is running an online survey: Please support our initiatives by having your say – it takes less than 10 minutes:

https://forms.gle/tWz8ApfcHytwyw9MA

About Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme

Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme have released a survey via social media https://www.instagram.com/p/COnmzKJpQLu

They are seeking a response from Portsmouth’s residents on issues of sexual assault, sexual violence, and domestic abuse.

Going that extra mile to safeguard victims and survivors. Contact them if you have been affected.