City of Sanctuary Interview with Christina Macdonald, Property Manager from Ethical Property Company.
LASSN: Could you give us some background as to what Ethical Property Company does?
CM: We provide office accommodation to organisations that are contributing to positive social change. That remit is quite broad, but it includes the voluntary sector, charities, campaign groups and some social enterprises. We have 15 centres around the country, and I am property manager in the Leeds branch at Roundhay Road Resource Centre, so I make sure this place runs ok and that all the tenants needs are met.
LASSN: Does the company currently work with any refugee and asylum seekers communities?
CM: Not directly, but around the country we do have refugee groups that attend the centres and also organisations who support refugees and asylum seekers, such as RETAS and LASSN here at Roundhay.
LASSN: What was your motivation for joining the City of Sanctuary movement?
CM: Although we don’t formally work with these groups, apart from as our tenants, we are very supportive of organisations who work in this area, and when we had the opportunity to join City of Sanctuary, we knew it was something we needed to get involved with. To me it sounds like it’s building a network of organisations, be they schools or businesses or voluntary groups that positively send out messages and actively promote a welcoming environment for refugees and asylum seekers.
LASSN: I suppose the key is to transmit that message across to the wider community and hopefully dispel any misconceptions.
CM: For sure, and I’ve been thinking about ways we can increase awareness of these issues, as in many cases people don’t know any asylum seekers or refugees and so don’t know their personal backgrounds and how difficult their lives can be.
LASSN: And often it can take one personal meeting to see through the cover-all terms, into a real life with a rich character and history, which is why events that promote social interaction are so valuable.
CM: Exactly, and the launch party will be a great way of celebrating peoples’ cultural diversity. Within our company, I’ve written an article in our staff newsletter to raise awareness and highlight what we can do as an organisation. In addition to that, every six months all the property managers from around the country come together to discuss current issues and I’m hoping to invite someone from Bristol City of Sanctuary to come and talk to us.
Although, I would hope, most of our colleagues are sympathetic to the cause, some of our building contractors, who may have had less contact with these groups and individuals, might feel more detached, so I’m going to invite our contractors to the celebration event of the new art exhibition at the Roundhay Centre as well as the City of Sanctuary launch. This should spread the word to people who wouldn’t usually hear about these things.
LASSN: What do you hope the City of Sanctuary movement can achieve?
CM: As we’ve discussed, elevate the awareness of issues refugees and asylum seekers face and off the back of that evoke a sense of empathy which can drive people to do something positive. This will hopefully inform opinions, and instead of seeing immigration as a problem, illustrate the benefits cultural diversity can bring to society.
Interviewed by Simon Wasser, University of Leeds