A Wallsend primary school which prides itself on its welcoming ethos has received an award in recognition of its inclusivity. St Columba’s in Wallsend has been named an official School of Sanctuary by City of Sanctuary UK, an organisation founded in 2004 to support refugees and asylum seekers in communities around the country.

A member of the Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust, St Columba’s becomes the third Trust school to receive the accolade, following in the footsteps of St Michael’s Catholic Primary in Elswick and Our Lady & St Anne’s in Newcastle.

Led by St Columba’s Year 4 teacher, Lesley Watson, who runs the school’s Mini Vinnies charitable group, pupils engaged in activities that included collecting food bank donations for refugees at the Walking With Centre in Wallsend, and developing a Pupil Charter to welcome new members to the school community, while staff delivered sessions on inclusivity and refugees.

The process took a full academic year,” said Head of School Rachel Quinn. “However, we already had some work in place as a result of being involved with Walking With for the past six years, through regular food banks and visits to meet the refugees. In order to achieve the award, the whole school community had to make a commitment to audit, develop an action plan and provide evidence towards a set of standards. It had to be a key focus of our development for the academic year 2022-23.

More than 400 primary and secondary schools across the UK have attained School of Sanctuary status, with each judged to foster ‘a culture of welcome and safety for people seeking sanctuary, including asylum seeking and refugee families’.

As a Catholic community, inclusivity is at the heart of our ethos,” continued Ms Quinn. “Our pupils and staff are friendly, kind and welcoming, they love it when new families join the school. We aim to help all families within our community, ensuring that our children are given equal opportunities and the chance to thrive. Year 5 children will be trained to become Buddies to any refugees joining our school in future. Children joining the school will be given time to settle into routines with the help of their buddies, and some time to talk about their home country and share their interests. Signs and symbols throughout the school are in several languages. The school has made a commitment to give refugee families information to support them in the community of Wallsend.

A special assembly was held to celebrate the School of Sanctuary Award, which is on proud display at the school.

Our pupils were thrilled to receive the award,” added Ms Quinn. “The pupils directly involved were so proud of their achievements and wanted to tell everyone about it. They announced it in assembly and everyone agreed that we wanted to be a ‘safe place’ for refugees to come to. It is a recognition of our welcoming and inclusive ethos, and we are proud to be recognised as a place to offer sanctuary to any families who may need it when fleeing violence or persecution.

Article created on behalf of Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust by Barking Dog Media. For more information email: david@barkingdogmedia.co.uk or call 07754 271086.