University walks for refugees 

This year Sheffield is showing its support for refugees. Sheffield is a City of Sanctuary, and the University is committed to doing its part to help keep safe students and academics who are at risk of harm in their home countries. Thanks to your support we have been able to raise over £40,000 towards this cause.

To this end the University has been coordinating a series of events. On Sunday 5 June our Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett led a walk in solidarity with refugees, inviting staff and students from the University, as well as members of the local community, to walk with him from the suburbs of Sheffield to the University. The aim of this walk was to spread the message of hope for refugees, and to show what Sheffield as a city does to welcome those in danger.

Then, last week (12-17 June) two teams took part in the Big Walk 2016, our main fundraising event to help bring refugee students and at-risk academics to Sheffield. For this year’s Big Walk two teams each walked over 120 miles along the Trans Pennine Trail – one setting off from Southport on the west coast, the other from Hornsea in the east – meeting in the middle at Tankersley, north of Sheffield. On the final day the two teams were joined by colleagues and friends from the University for the One Day Challenge, walking the final 18 miles back to Sheffield.

Throughout the week both teams took in a range of scenery: from the vast expanse of the Humber to the Mersey, old industrial centres around Liverpool and Hull, and the canals of the East Riding and the hills of the Pennines. A friendly rivalry built up through the week over who had the best/worst route, but all were united behind the vital cause.

Both teams had their struggles with leg troubles, achilles problems, and blisters aplenty. The fact that these two teams were walking with all the necessary equipment, in more or less ideal conditions, and were still struggling really brought home just how difficult and arduous the journeys faced by many refugees are.

Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield, and leader of the Hornsea Team said:

“The Big Walk was an amazing experience – absolutely mind-blowing. Everyone found it very challenging but we worked really well as a team.

“Whenever we had blisters or injuries we kept talking about how lucky we were that we had the right equipment, beds to sleep in and homes to go back to. Refugees and asylum seekers have to make much more challenging journeys, many carrying children with them.”

The fact both teams managed to finish the walk is a testament to the determination of all the walkers, and the incredible team spirit shared. This spirit was expanded on the final day as over 125 staff and students walked from Tankersley to the University.

Professor Wyn Morgan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield, and leader of the Southport Team said:

“It was tough, no question about it, but the fact we worked as a team, supporting each other, helped us get through it together. The highlight for me was the camaraderie. It was extraordinary because we didn’t know each other at the start of the week but we all built a really strong bond very quickly. It was really quite remarkable. I now feel like I have friends for life.”

Walkers of all experience joined the One Day Challenge, with a jovial and buoyant atmosphere along the route. While the day was a great opportunity to show support, it also showed how tough just a single day was, compared to the back to back days the teams experienced.

As the day came to a close the Big Walk teams were welcomed across the finish line by walkers and staff from across the University, back in Sheffield after six long days of trekking. Speaking immediately after the walk Professor Morgan explained:

“The money raised will fund scholarships that will transform lives. We have seen and heard this from students who have been refugees – while we were on the walk we even received a donation from the wife of a refugee. We’re really grateful to everyone who donated. The money raised will make a massive difference.”

The efforts of University staff and students have raised over £40,000 so far. The funds will help both students and academics who are seeking refuge in the UK. The University’s five asylum seeker scholarships are for students who have not yet been awarded refugee status - and therefore have no access to student loans or other public funds. These scholarships are unique in the UK and cover the cost of tuition and living costs for each year of study. They are available to students studying undergraduate degrees or postgraduate masters courses.

This is not the end of our campaign to support refugees. Later this year we will see a group skydive as part of the Big Leap, as well as numerous smaller events, all in support of refugee students and at-risk academics, so make sure to keep your eyes open.

The Big Walk 2016 teams after finishing their walk

Team Hornsea by the Humber Bridge

Team Southport walking on the first day

Team Southport

Team Hornsea

The Big Walk teams crossing the finish line

To read more about the challenge please visit the Big Walk web pages.

Find out more about the University's support of refugees via our Refugees Welcome web page.

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