Supporting the Organisational Wellbeing of City of Sanctuary Sheffield

A small group of qualified Clinical Psychologists have started working voluntarily into City of Sanctuary Sheffield.

Each psychologist has different roles within CoSS, and in addition come together to form a CoSS Psychology team. Their hope is that, through supporting the resilience of the team and the psychological mindedness of the organisational culture, they can support CoSS to be a safe and hopeful organisation and to sustain their work with asylum seekers and refugees in the face of the hostile environment. 

Tackling trauma

The volunteers and staff at City of Sanctuary Sheffield encounter trauma on a daily basis, as they work to support people who have both experienced trauma in the past and continue to face trauma through the hostile environment. This therefore carries risks including compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and the re-traumatization of staff and volunteers with lived experience. The psychologists have found that engaging with psychological input has improved staff and volunteer confidence, and feelings of safety and support.

As a psychology team, they offer staff training (e.g. around de-escalation, particular mental health conditions, boundaries and trauma-informed working), regular wellbeing sessions, and have a psychologist attending staff meetings and away days, in order to support confidence, connection, resilience and wellbeing within the staff team.

Volunteers at COSS are invited to attend a 6-weekly reflective practice forum, facilitated by one of the clinical psychologists. This is an opportunity to connect with each other and reflect on the emotional impact of the volunteering work that they do. They offer volunteers training in boundaries (called “Managing Tricky Situations”) and in trauma-informed working.

Sanctuary within a sanctuary

The team had input into the redevelopment of CoSS’s physical space (known as “The Sanctuary”) while the building was shut during Covid-19. Within this project, the team worked to ensure that the voices of staff, volunteers and those seeking Sanctuary, were heard. They had the opportunity to join architectural planning and design meetings and to support architects in considering the ways in which the environment can facilitate feelings of safety and belonging.

A number of voluntary sector agencies have expressed a need for some input and support around managing the emotional impact of their work. Therefore, the psychology team facilitated training, individual supervision, and Reflective Practice sessions for their staff. 

Broadening support

The team are currently exploring how their support could be provided more widely and longer term. They are exploring partnerships with other qualified psychologists with an interest in working into the voluntary sector, as well as the Sheffield branch of the organisation “Psychologists for Social Change”, and also the Clinical Psychology Unit (CPU) at Sheffield University. Their ambition is that through these partnerships, emotional reflective support can be offered to a number of voluntary sector agencies within Sheffield, as they are doing at City of Sanctuary Sheffield.

Refugees and people seeking asylum have complex emotional needs and mental health requirements. Within the work to support CoSS in being a psychologically- and trauma-informed organisation, the team has recognized the importance of challenging the systems that surround CoSS, which make it difficult for trauma-informed practice to take place.

The team has a number of threads on the go aimed at expanding awareness, and improving support, within mental health professions of the emotional and mental health needs of refugees and people seeking asylum. They have further strengthened their links with the Clinical Psychology Training Course and Talking Therapies training course at The University of Sheffield and are meeting regularly to ensure that the needs of refugees and people seeking asylum are well represented and taught about within these training courses.

Finally the team has been connecting with statutory mental health providers in Sheffield to try to facilitate greater access to psychological therapies for refugees and people seeking asylum. Meetings and conversations have taken place with Talking Therapies (previously known as IAPT -one of the main primary care providers of psychological therapies in Sheffield), with further planned.  

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