Man Standing While Raising His Hand in a theatre of sanctuary

What is A theatre of Sanctuary?

A Theatre of Sanctuary is a designation awarded to theatres that actively commit to creating a culture of Welcome, Hospitality and Safety for refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable groups. This concept extends the principles of the City of Sanctuary movement into the realm of the performing arts, ensuring that theatres become places of safety, belonging, and cultural exchange.

2024 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Leeds Playhouse becoming the world’s first Theatre of Sanctuary. An incredible theatre, lighting up pathways, platforms and projects of sanctuary. Congratulations to Leeds Playhouse upon your tenth anniversary as a Theatre of Sanctuary.

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live” – Celtic Proverb

City of Sanctuary

The City of Sanctuary movement began in Sheffield, UK, in 2005. The idea was to foster a culture of welcome, hospitality and safety, creating a network of cities where newcomers could feel safe and valued. Sanctuary in this context is about finding shelter in each other and being a sanctuary together. The movement quickly gained momentum, spreading to other cities across the UK and internationally. By 2007, Sheffield was officially recognized as the first City of Sanctuary. A City of Sanctuary is one where local organizations, communities, and individuals work together to support refugees and asylum seekers. The City of Sanctuary movement is about providing immediate support to those in need and building more inclusive, compassionate, and resilient communities through a culture of welcome, hospitality and safety.

Creating a culture of Welcome, Hospitality and Safety through Theatre’s of Sanctuary is about working in solidarity with those who have important messages but who also have the least access to a platform to share their stories. By becoming a Theatre of Sanctuary, you are supporting them to share their stories loud and proud, in creative and constructive ways.

Key Elements of a Theatre of Sanctuary

  • Inclusivity and Accessibility
  • Community Engagement
  • Awareness and Advocacy
  • Support and Empowerment
  • Training and Education

Inclusivity and Accessibility

As a society, we must ensure that refugees and asylum seekers can access theatre productions, workshops, and other activities both as an audience member and as a performer, This might include offering free or discounted tickets, providing transportation, or arranging additional performances. Performances and events that highlight refugee experiences can educate audiences about global and local issues, promoting empathy and support for refugee communities.

More important than having a roof over your head is the knowledge that you are not alone,
excluded or isolated.

Community Engagement

Theatres of Sanctuary contribute to building more cohesive and compassionate communities, where diversity is celebrated, and everyone feels valued and included.

  • Open doors to refugees and to people seeking sanctuary
  • Offer welcome, protective hospitality and safety within the environment and art of creativity
  • Actively engage with local refugee and asylum-seeker communities and support networks
  • Involve partnerships with local organizations
  • Host community events
  • Involve refugees and asylum seekers in the creation of theatre productions
Street metal pillar with various stickers one saying Refugees Welcome

Awareness and Advocacy

Using theater as a platform to raise awareness about the experiences and challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers can tell their stories, promote discussions and workshops, and advocate for their rights and well-being.

A Diverse Group of Women Posing Together for a Picture

Support and Empowerment

Communities must celebrate human relationships mutual respect and trust and provide opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to participate in theatre. This is as audience members, actors, playwrights, or backstage crew.

  • Build Confidence
  • Develop Social Skills
  • Instil a Sense of Community
  • Improve Integration into Society

Participating in theatre can be empowering for anyone, not just refugees and asylum seekers, providing a means of self-expression and helping to heal trauma through creative engagement.

Training and Education

Offering training and educational programs for theatre staff and volunteers to better understand the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers can assist with supporting them effectively. By involving refugees and asylum seekers in theatre activities, these programs help to integrate them into the local community, reducing isolation and building their social networks.

Treat each other with
humanity, hospitality: Always challenge hostility with humanity and hospitality.

Cultural Exchange and Enrichment

Theaters of Sanctuary become spaces where diverse cultures and stories can be shared and celebrated, enriching the cultural landscape and fostering mutual understanding.

Examples of Theatres of Sanctuary

Several theaters in the UK and beyond have embraced the Theatre of Sanctuary initiative. Examples include:

  • Leeds Playhouse: One of the first theaters to be recognized as a Theatre of Sanctuary, Leeds Playhouse has developed numerous programs and partnerships to support refugees and asylum seekers.
  • The Mongomery Theatre in Sheffield: Works with refugees through various initiatives aimed at promoting inclusivity and cultural exchange.
  • Stand and Be Counted (SBC): The UK’s first Theatre of Sanctuary. Specifically dedicated to working with refugees and asylum seekers.
  • The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry: Actively engages with refugee communities through various outreach programs and inclusive practices.
  • Sherman Theatre: Known for its commitment to inclusivity and community engagement, it works to create welcoming spaces for refugees and asylum seekers.

These and all other Theatre’s of Sanctuary are enabling audiences to hear these important messages loud and clear.

In essence, a Theatre of Sanctuary not only provides a safe and welcoming space for refugees and asylum seekers but also enriches the entire community by building a spirit of inclusivity, understanding, and cultural exchange alongside a culture of Welcome, Hospitality and Safety for all.

Thank you, to the Leeds Playhouse, all the teams who work here and all Theatre’s of Sanctuary, for all your commitment and contribution to creative projects and the practical support you provide for vulnerable people, people seeking sanctuary and to refugees.

You are going above and beyond your call and duty in the challenge to build cultures of welcome, protective hospitality and safety.

We stand together, in solidarity, keeping people connected, together building cultures of welcome, hospitality and sanctuary. Everyone of us can engage with this work.

This is where our strength is.

Inderjit Bhogal, 4th June 2024



Pause For Thought is featured on BBC Radio 2. It is hosted on the OJ Borg programme at 2.30am (GMT). Inderjit contributes regular short reflections on various topics, often related to spirituality, philosophy and personal experiences. Inderjit provides a moment of reflection and contemplation offering you a brief pause. Here, Inderjit shares his insights and wisdom, to inspire you, encourage you, or provide a moment of reflection before you start the day.

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