From education to employment

College of Sanctuary status awarded to The Sheffield College

The Sheffield College has received national recognition for going above and beyond to support refugees and people seeking asylum.

The College has been awarded College of Sanctuary status by the network organisation City of Sanctuary for providing inclusive education and support.

As the largest English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provider in the city, the College supports asylum seekers back into learning through its ESOL courses.

Around 4,000 adults (aged 19-plus) and 200 young people (16 to 18-year-olds) a year study full-time and part-time ESOL courses.

The courses develop speaking, writing, listening and reading skills and enable students to get into work, gain employment and access further or higher education. 

The College of Sanctuary award recognises good practice and the College’s commitment to the values of fairness, respect, equality, diversity, inclusivity and engagement that aim to underpin everything it does.

Angela Foulkes, Chief Executive and Principal, The Sheffield College, said: “We take pride in our diverse college community and the welcome we offer to young people and adults in need of safety. We are especially honoured to receive the College of Sanctuary accolade given that we are based in Sheffield – the first ever City of Sanctuary.”

She added: “Ultimately, however, this award is testament to the amazing dedication and fortitude of those students in our community who have faced huge disruption to their education, often as a result of conflict, and moved to Sheffield to start again. Education can bring a sense of sanctuary and provide a safe space as well as offering hope for the future.”

Siân Summer-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK, said: “We all have a part to play in building a more welcoming, inclusive and compassionate society. The Sheffield College is going above and beyond. Their work breaks down barriers, increases understanding and builds community cohesion. We are over the moon that they have achieved this award.”

City of Sanctuary UK works with individuals, groups and organisations in every area and in every sector to encourage inclusivity, compassion and solidarity with refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Sheffield became the UK’s first City of Sanctuary for asylum seekers and refugees in 2007.

Further education colleges are often the first place where people seeking sanctuary encounter educational opportunities in the UK either through ESOL classes or via new professional qualifications.

Students completing ESOL classes at the College originate from around 30 countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Burma, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Greece, Poland and Georgia. The College is also supporting new cohorts of Ukrainian adults and young people coming to Sheffield.

The College’s ESOL students include Walid Elmatmati, 47, who originates from Libya and moved to the UK four years-ago. He spent some time in Newcastle studying and working as a volunteer translator for the fire service and a local charity before moving to Sheffield. 

He said: “I left Libya because of the civil war. I used to work for a human rights organisation and I also ran a food export and import business. It became too dangerous for me and my family to stay. 

People were being thrown in prison without reason. I was threatened with being kidnapped and someone shot at my car. I escaped with my wife and child. We lost everything – a house, car, job but I had to get out to save my family. You can’t put a price on security.”

He added: “I am really enjoying the College. I have met lots of different people from many different countries. We have been sharing our stories and cultures and it gives me hope and inspires me to succeed.” 

Meanwhile, college ESOL alumnus Lodmilla Khalil, 23, is progressing with a degree after moving with her family to Sheffield from Syria. Lodmilla missed out on education from the age of 12 to 18 due to the conflict in Syria.

She said: “When I arrived at The Sheffield College, I had no qualifications to my name. It wasn’t possible to go to school in Syria for a long time because of the bombing. It wasn’t safe and some of the schools were destroyed.”

Lodmilla has felt welcomed by the City and the College and is now studying pharmacy at the University of Huddersfield after she achieved top grades at the College last summer in a BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science, equivalent to three A Levels. Her ambition is to work for the NHS.

She added: “Sheffield is really friendly. I have always met lovely and supportive people. You have to look to the future and keep trying to do the best that you can.”

The College offers ESOL, as well as maths, digital and employability, courses to adults at its new learning centre based at Pennine 5 on Tenter Street, in Sheffield City Centre, which was officially launched in April this year.

The move of some adult provision to Pennine 5 is part of an ongoing programme by the College to invest in teaching and learning facilities for the benefit of students and in partnership with employers and key organisations in the city.

Meanwhile, ESOL courses for 16 to 18-year-olds are offered at City Campus, Hillsborough Campus and Fir Vale Centre. Employability courses are also provided in partnership with Jobcentre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Martin McKervey, the former High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, who spoke at the launch of Pennine 5, said: “Moving to a new country presents a lot of challenges not least in terms of the language barrier. ESOL provision is an important part of our approach to education and skills; it creates opportunities and empowers learners to be the best they can.”

He added: “It also demonstrates how caring Sheffield is as a city. Not only do we welcome people but we want to help them develop their use of the English language. The Sheffield College is to be applauded for this important and outstanding work. ESOL says something very positive about the College and our great city.”


Pictured: ESOL staff and students celebrate at the College’s Pennine 5 launch earlier this year.

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