'Sanctuary' network set for Portsmouth offering vulnerable people a place to get help at anytime

SAFE havens for people in need will be sprouting up across the city as part of a network of shelters.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 10:37 am

Shops, businesses, faith groups and education providers are all needed to take part in the Spaces of Sanctuary SoS project.

Organisers behind the scheme are set to train willing volunteers in a bid to ensure proper advice is given to Portsmouth’s most vulnerable.

A symbol in a premises’ window will indicate they are involved and can lend a sympathetic ear, a safe place and advice on who to get more help from.

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Trustee of Spaces of Sanctuary, Denise Callender and Rick Christie at Head Hairdressing, Southsea Picture: Habibur Rahman

Anyone can make use of the fledgling network of support bases - from those suffering a panic attack to those being assaulted.

Malcolm Little is chair of the Portsmouth City of Sanctuary, the registered charity spearheading the initiative.

He 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 intimidated, 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.

Trustee of Spaces of Sanctuary, Denise Callender Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘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 agencies that they can contact in agreement with the person that has come to them for refuge, but this may not always be necessary.’

Mr Little’s organisation is teaming up with Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme and Portsmouth Dignity Network to help run the informal refuges.

Training is key as a survey revealed that many in the city want to help but fear making a bad situation worse.

Rick Christie with fellow barbers Rhys Geehan and Sam Langford at Head Hairdressing Picture: Habibur Rahman

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Among those taking part is Rick Christie and his team of four at Head Hairdressing for Men in Albert Road, Southsea.

Rick, who has run the business for 16 years in Albert Road, said: 'A bit of patience and a bit of kindness is going to go a long way.'

The foodbank volunteer added: ‘I think it’s a really good idea, there are people out there that need support and there’s lots of small businesses with the sort of people that are happy to help.

Rick Christie at Head Hairdressing Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘With the way things have been in the last year we seriously need some compassion in the world and actually start looking after each other.’

‘There’s a certain level of counselling in our job anyway so we’re kind of used to talking on board people’s problems and being a bit of a listener.

‘But I think the other side of this is where we get some help in signposting people to the help they need.’

The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the suffering of the most vulnerable, he said.

‘It’s been horrendous. You hear stories of domestic abuse on the rise, and people being trapped into situations.

‘I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got a family around me, we all get on great, I’ve had the support from that - we’ve had support from government as a business - but there are people out there who have fallen through the net.

‘The mental health side of this - we haven’t even seen the start of that.’

Free training on protecting people’s dignity will be provided to those who sign up by Portsmouth Dignity Network.

Anna Flynn, managing director and founder of the network, 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.’

Harriet Evens, who runs Pompey Safe Spaces Scheme, said: ‘(Our scheme) 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.’

PANEL

SUPPORT is needed to make the network of shelters work.

Kind words, a glass of water, a space and a friendly face are all you need to offer to take part.

Anyone interested in joining should email Shaun Martinez , the volunteer project lead, on [email protected]

The Portsmouth City of Sanctuary team is also working with GP surgeries to set up safe spaces, running refugee care-leaver projects and organising social work and law placements.

The organisation also runs a welcome box for asylum seekers, with conversation clubs, and English language learning facilities.

Denise Callender, a City of Sanctuary trustee, said: ‘If you want to become a space of sanctuary, email [email protected]

‘Also we want residents’ views - what are their thoughts on what a space of sanctuary should be?

‘Support the initiatives by having your say - it takes less than 10 minutes.