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St Mary’s School in Lewisham becomes a School of Sanctuary

As Lewisham celebrates becoming the first borough in London to become a Borough of Sanctuary, they also mark welcoming a new school to the Schools of Sanctuary Stream.

Following a review of its application and a meeting with staff and students, City of Sanctuary UK is thrilled to recognise St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School as a School of Sanctuary, a recognition that stands for the next three years. They are joining a network of over 300 primary and secondary schools committed to creating a culture of welcome and raising awareness of issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers.

At St. Mary’s every class has its own community project as well as whole school projects that address issues that people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim face, like the butterfly project for No Recourse to Public Funds in which they coloured a butterfly as a symbol of migration and displayed it at their homes in support. There is also an element of the curriculum that focuses on empathy and includes stories of sanctuary in an accessible manner for each year group.

During the appraisal meeting three students shared their thoughts, experiences and what they had learnt during the process of becoming a School of Sanctuary. Movingly, one student explained how the school supported him and helped him learn English when he first arrived in the UK and that despite moving house he had not moved school as the school felt like ‘family’. This clearly evidenced the school’s promotion of welcome and inclusion.


The children took part in a workshop carried out by students from University College London to think about how NHS charging practices affect families without settled status. They all created some artwork which will be used to illustrate an information leaflet that will be available at advice centres and GP centres in the local area.

Marta Tildesley, St. Mary’s School Home Support Practitioner, stated “The process has been invaluable for us as it has helped us to draw all the threads of work that we do in school together and helped us to focus on areas that need a bit more developing. The process has also been incredibly supportive and encouraging!”

Schools of Sanctuary Support Officer, Megan Greenwood who was one of the representatives of City of Sanctuary on the appraisal panel explained why St Mary’s application to become a School of Sanctuary was successful.

“St. Mary’s recognises that promoting sanctuary in school requires a holistic approach, clearly evidenced both in its commitment to meeting the needs of its students, many of whom are from sanctuary-seeking background but also extending their duty of care to their families. In doing so St. Mary’s proactively works to support and empower students, parent/carers and the local community to take action in improving the experiences of people seeking sanctuary in the UK and combating challenges which affect many in the school community. Talking with staff and students and learning about their campaigning, advocacy and the work of the Parents Immigration Action Group was inspiring, and I am so thrilled to recognise St Mary’s as a School of Sanctuary.”

We are so excited to welcome St. Mary’s to the School of Sanctuary network and look forward to more schools in Lewisham using their example to join the movement.