The far-reaching network of libraries across North Yorkshire has received a prestigious award for providing a safe space for sanctuary seekers and refugees.
Made up of 42 branches and one mobile facility spread across England’s largest county, North Yorkshire’s library service has been awarded the Libraries of Sanctuary status.
It is awarded by the City of Sanctuary UK charity, which supports communities to make their schools, theatres and libraries safe places for people who are seeking refuge.
The award presentation was held on Friday (20 October 2023) at Ripon Library with North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for libraries, Cllr Simon Myers, Cities of Sanctuary director of operations, Sara Trewitt, and representatives from the library service.
Author Katie Daynes led a class visit with pupils from Moorside Primary School about her lift-the-flap book on refugees, which was written with support from the Refugee Council and refugee families. The book guides children through questions about refugees, delivering an empowering message about how we can help.
Cllr Myers said:
We are delighted to receive the award which is testament to the dedicated staff and volunteers going the extra mile for the most vulnerable in our communities.
Libraries offer a safe and welcoming space for all and are actively reaching out to sanctuary seekers to raise awareness of our services and resources.
Our staff have been trained to understand issues faced to signpost for support, and we are encouraging attendance to a range of inclusive activities. We are determined to improve the offer going forward to ensure we are providing the best service that we can.
North Yorkshire has been praised for making library services easily accessible for sanctuary seekers, which involves outreach staff visiting temporary accommodation. They have organised library visits to showcase the stock, services and inclusive activities on offer.
The service has removed the need for users to show proof of identification, and made an exemption for fines, hire charges and reservation fees.
It now offers free IT subscriptions, allowing sanctuary seekers to stay in touch with loved ones and access vital support. It also runs inclusive events and activities such as conversation clubs, dual language story times and craft clubs.
The service has introduced resources including books, e-newspapers and e-magazines in first languages, with dual language picture and story books for younger readers. The library app is also available in multiple languages.
Staff and volunteers have benefitted from training from the Refugee Council in how to welcome and meet the requirements of sanctuary seekers and further sessions are planned.
The county’s libraries rely on more than 1,000 volunteers and 31 sites are managed by local communities. To support people to gain a foothold in their new communities, the service provides a range of volunteering opportunities.
Yuliya Pavlenko, who moved to North Yorkshire following the Ukrainian invasion, is now a volunteer at Filey Library and has donated a book.
Yuliya Pavlenko said:
I really love books and being among them inspires and relaxes me. I am meeting new people and love being helpful to the customers.
Volunteering in the library helps me integrate into society. It is important when you are trying to settle in another country. I really appreciate the openness and friendly attitude of the team here in Filey.
Ashley Beckett, the lead for City of Sanctuary UK, said:
We are so pleased to give North Yorkshire libraries a Libraries of Sanctuary award in recognition of their efforts to extend to everyone in their communities a warm and inclusive welcome.
The library services have gone out of their way to make sure the people seeking sanctuary living in the most remote parts of their county are able to access resources of the library and feel welcomed to North Yorkshire. This is a tremendous achievement to be celebrated.