Developing a Single Point of Access in Sheffield

Tom explains the Sheffield Single Point of Access model and how it adapted during Covid-19.

Organisation Profile

Why was a Single Point of Access in Sheffield needed?

Sheffield is blessed with several excellent organisations staffed by people committed to supporting and empowering those seeking sanctuary.  There are a range of organisations both large and small, that work in different ways, locations and areas of the asylum journey. In this environment, systems that unite organisations and facilitate effective communication are needed.

Also, people new to Sheffield need to be guided throughout this complex network of support so they can benefit from it.

Service coordination aims to:

  • Prevent miscommunication between organisations
  • Avoid duplication of work
  • Ensure that those seeking asylum can access available services
  • Support those seeking asylum to live a fulfilled life
"Ultimately, it is to ensure those seeking sanctuary have full access to services across the city to live a fulfilled life here." 

Sheffield’s Single Point of Contact is focused on shared physical spaces. We have a Drop-in where people can access a mixture of advice and social support. We also have our welcoming city centre hub named the ‘Sanctuary’. Here is where we offer regular advice support and social activities, open 4 days a week.

Our Single Point of Access website provides accurate advice for every stage of the asylum journey, updated by COOS. There is also our monthly organisation meeting where we share work and avoid duplication, named the Refugee and Migrant Forum.

How did you adapt it in light of COVID-19?

In light of COVID-19, we created ‘The Virtual Sanctuary’ to fill the gap left by closing The Sanctuary and the Drop-In.  The Virtual Sanctuary is there to maintain communication between organisations and asylum seekers, and to provide existing services virtually.

We moved to a Single Point of Access phone line as a substitute for our usual front of house support. People can call for referrals to other organisations or for The Virtual Sanctuary. This suits those that have not yet utilised the support in the city, replicating the ‘Welcome Project’.

We have been more proactive about contacting people during the pandemic rather than waiting for them to contact us. We identified groups of people (new refugees, asylum seekers in NASS accommodation and destitute asylum seekers), and worked with other organisations to ensure they can use support services available in the city. For example, by sending regular, translated information updates via text or coordinated multi-agency leaflets.

Finally, we have brought the ‘Service Providers’ together in a fortnightly meeting to share work, produce shared information and identify and respond to needs. This led to the development of new projects such as the Homeschool Support Project and the Connections Team, and the production of shared work, such as information leaflets and asylum journey updates.

What challenges have you encountered?

Managing the competing needs of different organisations can be difficult. Some are more focused on offering advice, some on advocacy and campaigning, and some on providing social support. Our differences are beneficial but can also create difficulties.

Reaching into communities has been difficult. Historically a lot of the support available in Sheffield is based in the city centre.

Diversifying those involved in the work is also hard. There is lots of informal community support that goes unrecognised and is not part of the systems that we work in.

What has the impact been for services? 

“The Asylum Journey is a significant achievement. It was originally developed for gap analysis. It is now an information resource, providing valuable overview and details of facilities, organisations and groups that provide services to asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield"

What feedback have you got from clients? / What has the impact been for clients? 

“This help that you have given us is really something that I and my family are very grateful for. It is very important because we are in a situation where our food is very limited and now this is the best thing that your help has given us. We appreciate it so much” - Asylum seeker (family)
“My area of expertise is working with asylum seekers and refugee women; by volunteering with COSS I have been able to support more vulnerable women who need help. Most of the women we work with have difficulty in approaching many of the services in the city by themselves, for many reasons, and particularly during the lockdown which has resulted in reduced public transport and closed the doors of many charity projects.” - Volunteer

See here for full write up.

What practical advice would you give to other organisations?

It’s hard to envision at the moment, but creating physical spaces where organisations work alongside each other helps with communication and avoiding duplication.

Make sure people hear about the ‘Single Point of Access’, whatever form it takes.  Before the pandemic, we ran the Welcome Project which allowed us to meet people as they were arriving in Sheffield and direct them to the Drop-In.  This first point of contact is crucial to ensure people can access the support available as early as possible.

The ‘social’ aspect of these spaces is really important.  Advice is inherently constrained by the limits of policy but creating a welcoming space can transcend these limits and be much more empowering. Think about the spaces that you use for the SPA, and have this at the forefront of your mind when planning.