Skip to main content

Cambridgeshire Libraries receive the Library of Sanctuary award

07 August 2023

Libraries throughout Cambridgeshire have received Libraries of Sanctuary status.

This national award celebrates libraries that work hard to demonstrate hospitality, solidarity and welcome to new arrivals in the area. The title was awarded by City of Sanctuary UK, a nationally coordinated network of organisations and services, including councils, universities, theatres and libraries that welcome and support refugees and people seeking asylum.

Cambridgeshire has a strong heritage of supporting those in need, with public libraries playing an important role in welcoming refugees, migrants, and other new arrivals into our communities.

The award follows Cambridgeshire Libraries' May 2022 pledge to work towards the City of Sanctuary charter locally. This saw Cambridgeshire Libraries working across staff, volunteers and library users to learn what it means to be seeking sanctuary; and be actively involved in awareness raising about the issues of refugees and displaced people.

Libraries have also taken positive action to ensure a culture of hospitality which means refugees and all those seeking sanctuary are welcomed, supported and included throughout library resources, events and learning opportunities hosted at Cambridgeshire Libraries.

Alongside this work, the service has also shared information and news about the positive contribution refugees make to our society, as part of Cambridgeshire’s wider commitment to openness, welcome and tolerance and our drive to become a fairer and more caring County.

Five people sit in the visible section of a drum circle, in a conference room at Cambridge Central Library.
A drumming workshop hosted by Cambridge Central Library, as part of Refugee Week 2023.

Having obtained this award, Cambridgeshire Libraries join a national network of librarians, library staff, community groups and volunteers who are raising awareness of the issues facing people in the asylum system, offering support and participation opportunities, and contributing to a culture of welcome in our wider community.

Cllr Alex Bulat, Vice-chair of Communities, Social Mobility and Inclusion committee, and Migrant Champion at Cambridgeshire County Council said: “I cannot begin to imagine the horrors that people seeking safety in the UK have seen. We all have a part to play in welcoming and supporting them as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

“There is always more we can do, but I am delighted that Cambridgeshire Libraries have achieved ‘Libraries of Sanctuary’ status because it demonstrates that our libraries are a safe and inclusive space for everyone, and because this work underlines our continued commitment to being a county that is known for its tolerance and compassion.”

One of the regular attendees of Cambridge Central Library's weekly Improve Your English group said: “The library is like an umbrella, you go inside and you feel comfortable and like you’re in your own world. In my country you need permission to enter the library and there’s not as many resources. I’m very glad to be in such a place and to join these events with you.”

Sian Summers-Rees, City of Sanctuary UK Chief Officer said: “We are delighted that Cambridgeshire Libraries are now a Library Service of Sanctuary. Public libraries play an important role in welcoming refugees and people seeking sanctuary in our communities, and this team has gone above and beyond to welcome people and platform their voices, bring the community together and raise awareness of the reasons people are forced to move."

Anyone living, working, visiting, or studying in Cambridgeshire or neighbouring counties can join the library. Membership is free and no documents are needed. Details of how library services can support new arrivals can be found on our Libraries of Sanctuary page.

Library membership means that, new arrivals can access foreign language and dual language books, and language learning resources. They can also take free digital skills courses, including modules on money management, finding a job, and using public services. Laptop loans are also available. Free access to over 7,000 newspapers and magazines from 140 different countries through PressReader is another resource that is likely to interest new arrivals from overseas.

Cambridgeshire Libraries can also connect new arrivals with other organisations that can support them in areas such as housing, internet access, learning English, further study and finding a job, immigration and visas, and how to access health services.