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How a game of cricket sums up our ambitions

In July this year, far-right protestors held a rally outside one of the Norwich hotels housing asylum seekers. But as this is Norwich, they were far outnumbered by local people who staged a peaceful counterprotest. Hearing of the hostility, a Norwich pub cricket team asked us if any of the asylum seekers would like to play them in a friendly. After a few phone calls, a date was set.

As the Afghan team arrived at the Britannia Barrack’s pitch, it was a warm August evening. Running onto the pitch, there were shy smiles and mumbled hellos as they shook hands with the home team. Laughing as they posed for the team photo, like sports teams everywhere, they gathered in a huddle around their captain, joining arms and cheering, excited to be playing again. With very little English between them, they used the international language of cricket instead, ironing out the rules – agreeing to swop batsmen after every 30 runs and choosing to put Earlham Village into bat…

This small act of solidarity is an example of what lies at the heart of the national City fo Sanctuary movement, which aims to build a culture of welcome for people seeking sanctuary across the UK. Founded in Sheffield in 2005, there are now over 100 local groups across the country. Norwich City of Sanctuary was formed six years ago and now works in partnership with local charities from the refugee sector: New Routes Integration, The Bridge Plus+, English+, Norwich International Youth Project and The Red Cross. Run almost entirely by volunteers, we encourage organisations across the city to think about how they can be welcoming towards people seeking sanctuary. To date, over 30 organisations have attained our Sanctuary Award. These include 18 schools, The University of East Anglia, Norfolk Museums Service, Norwich Millennium Library, Norwich Theatre and a growing number of gardens, cafes and churches among others. Over 30 more Norwich organisations are currently working towards gaining a Sanctuary Award.

And, hot off the press, this summer we gained funding for a pilot project to support three Norfolk towns to explore how they can become Towns of Sanctuary within the City of Sanctuary movement. We are currently scoping where would be most impactful and are looking at Dereham, Watton and Diss. If you live in any of these towns and would like to give us your views, please get in touch. Dereham has built up support for many Ukrainian refugees in their community. In Watton, a small number of Afghan families, brought to the UK when the Taliban retook control of their country, have recently been moved into housing on an MOD base there. The idea of the pilot is to use Norfolk’s existing library network, with Norwich Millennium Library as a Library of Sanctuary, helping lead the project.

Kath Griffiths, Locality Manager for Norwich and East Norfolk said: “With its network of 47 libraries countywide, libraries are ideally placed at the heart of communities to offer a safe, welcoming, and non-judgemental space for all. Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library is proud to be a Library of Sanctuary, and we are working to achieve this for all Norfolk libraries. Norfolk Library & Information Service has a strong track record of supporting the migrant community arriving in the county. ”

In the case of the cricketers, to make the friendly possible, 3 members of the Earlham Village team had to drive to the hotel to pick them up as they have no transport and, as the timing of the match clashed with when food is served in the hotels, one of the home team laid on a vegetarian curry at his home. Housed in the hotels are skilled workers – mechanical engineers, tailors, dentists – but under the current rules, asylum seekers are prohibited from working until they are granted refugee status. Afghans are amongst the top 5 nationalities to gain refugee status in the UK, because of the persecution they face under the Taliban regime. The backlog of asylum claims, currently numbering approximately 160,000, means these Afghans have been waiting in temporary accommodation for their claims to be processed for over a year.

While keeping score, team captain, Pete Lee, explained they’d played an Afghan team before when they were on tour in Finland: “We knew how enthusiastic they were about their cricket. We had all read about the hotel in Bowthorpe – and all thought it would be a nice welcoming gesture to ask them if they’d like a game of cricket. Especially as there were some negative stories in the news at that time. The best part of the evening was probably finding out that our teams were of very similar standards – our opening batsmen were worried that they’d be of international standard. But we’ve had 2 really close games, we’re level at 1-1, and both games were played in a really good spirit.”

His brother Richard Lee, the team’s Fixtures Secretary, who also laid on the curry added: “To spend an evening playing cricket and eating with their team, brings home how they are all very different individuals who all have their own stories and struggles. It was great to see them doing selfies and video clips to send home to their parents of both the cricket and the evening meal.”

As they packed up to drive the Afghans back to Bowthorpe, Pete Lee added: “I guess it reminds us that if you take 22 people, and give them a bat and ball, it doesn’t matter if communication is limited – they’ll soon be laughing at each other and enjoying the game. Oh, and we worked out that the word ‘Howzat’ is truly international.” And for those of you who follow cricket, the final score of that evening’s match was Earlham Village 107-4 off 20 overs. The Afghans 103-7 over 20 overs.

a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or
natural disaster.
“tens of thousands of refugees fled their homes”

We Refugees – Benjamin Zephaniah extract
We can all be refugees
Nobody is safe,
All it takes is a mad leader
Or no rain to bring forth food,
We can all be refugees
We can all be told to go,
We can be hated by someone
For being someone.

asylum seeker
/əˈsʌɪləm ˌsiːkə/
a person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in
“only asylum seekers who are granted refugee status are allowed to work in the country”

Claire Wood is a former BBC reporter and now works as the Coordinator for Norwich City of Sanctuary. If your workplace or child’s school would like to apply to become a Place of Sanctuary email: [email protected]