BLYTHEFIELD Primary School is celebrating after becoming the first primary school in the north to attain ‘School of Sanctuary’ status.

The school, located in the South Belfast Urban Village area, embarked on the journey to School of Sanctuary status over a year ago. Everyone, from staff, parents, pupils and wider community has embraced the ethos of a safe and welcoming space for newcomer children and their families.

As part of their journey, Blythefield has connected with other schools from around the world, celebrated Chinese New Year, created a Friendship Club, hosted international student teachers, held a series of Small World workshops, learned African drumming and created a sanctuary garden.

Catherine Roulston, Principal of Blythefield Primary School, said: “The School of Sanctuary project presented an opportunity to celebrate not only the cultures of the children who join our school as newcomers but also to celebrate and learn about the cultures of children who live in this community.”

Blythefield was supported by the Urban Villages Initiative in partnership with the Education Authority’s Intercultural Education Services and both are now ready to support other schools in Urban Village areas to do the same in the next phase roll-out. The Urban Villages Initiative is a key action within the Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Together: Building a United Community’ strategy.

Linsey Farrell, Director of the Urban Villages Initiative, said: “Blythefield Primary School is a wonderful example of how a school can be a beacon in the local community and become a place of safety and inclusion for all and I congratulate them on their award as a School of Sanctuary.”

The school was officially presented with the award by Sipho Sibanda and Sara Hakim from Places of Sanctuary at a celebration event held in the school in front of a packed assembly hall of dignitaries, parents, staff and pupils of the school. A recently developed Schools of Sanctuary resource booklet that was revised by the Education Authority was launched on the same day.

Sharon O’Connor, Chairperson of the Education Authority, added: “The Education Authority is proud to support the Schools of Sanctuary programme and are delighted to be launching the resource pack with our partners today.

“We want schools to embrace, celebrate and value Northern Ireland’s increasing cultural diversity. We are committed to ensuring that all children in our schools have the opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment and to be the best that they can be.

“I congratulate Blythefield Primary School on their achievement and I would encourage other schools to learn from their experiences, get the resource pack and start working towards becoming a School of Sanctuary.”