Obituary: Sally Beaumont 1935-2022
10 June 2022
Sally Beaumont has died peacefully at home, aged 87, on June 9th 2022. Sally was one of our longest standing volunteers and was involved with our Room for Refugees programme since the start and helped to shape the pioneering programme that has to date sheltered and transformed the lives of more than 4,000 men , women and children from refugee backgrounds.
Sally Beaumont was the finest example of a humanitarian. When she first registered to host with our Room for Refugees programme, she declared: "I have been arrested and charged but never convicted as a result of demonstrating at Faslane, the nuclear depot". Exactly the kind of person we wanted.
For eight years Sally, 87, opened up her home to 25 asylum seekers, in part due to her own life experiences. She became a friend to the charity, and we knew her for her good humour and zest for life. She was amongst 25 regular volunteers then, who stepped forward to host destitute asylum seekers in her home.
She was a determined individual, feisty, mischievous, a disrupter and a champion of the disenfranchised, inspirational to many, usually through her preferred method of storytelling. She delighted in giving but was also a gracious recipient of kindness and hospitality.
Her early experiences coloured her attitudes to the destitute and to institutions. She was born in England in 1935, the youngest of four, and early in the war her father, a serving colonel, arranged for the family to be evacuated to Vancouver Island. Not anticipating that exchange restrictions would leave them penniless, they became reliant on handouts from the local community.
“I was evacuated as a child in 1939, during the Second World War, to a very nice place in Canada. But when the money that went with us over there stopped, we were refugees,” said Sally.
“We relied on the kindness of others. “Asylum seekers are just people in trouble. I’d like to think if I was ever in trouble again someone would help me.”
Back in England, she hated boarding school but escaped to university at St Andrews, where she met Jack in fresher’s week, soon telling her mother that she’d just met her future husband (“don't worry, he doesn't know yet”). They married in 1957 and were known as an inseparable couple throughout their years together.
Adventures before Jack’s ordination included teaching in Edinburgh, study for Jack at Tübingen, where Sally taught English to refugees from East Germany, and travel to the Middle East. She joined CND in the late 1950s and had a lifelong commitment to activism.
From 1960 theirs was a missionary or manse life: they had four years at Loudon in Malawi, where she had her younger son,
“we had no running water, no electricity. But the Malawians coped and we learned to live like they did. There were no shops, no telephones”.
Then followed eight years in Penicuik and nineteen in Bishopbriggs. Having turned her hand to helping at baby clinics in Africa, she went back to teaching in Scotland. This would take her to a co-ordinator role with multicultural education in Glasgow, a job she loved.
Jack’s strokes in the early 1990s meant they settled to a comparatively quiet life in Edinburgh until his death in 1998. Her heart operation the following year spurred a new wave of commitment to causes of peace and justice, joining demonstrations at the Scottish Parliament and Faslane, with Trident Ploughshares, becoming secretary of Edinburgh Churches Together, serving with the Ecumenical Forum of Christian Women and becoming a full member of the Iona Community, a major part of her life. Following one of her several arrests, she shared a holding cell with MSPs
“I don’t consider it breaking the law. I have put in a request that the PM be arrested, because it's him breaking the law.” She said.
Sally was often on Iona, at Community week or volunteering at the Mac, and travelled several times to eastern Europe with the Lydia Project to help create links back to their homes for trafficked women (always stubborn, she saved one companion’s life in a subsequent accident in Romania after having refused to travel until all seat belts were fastened).
She moved to a flat in Glasgow in 2007, where she opened up her home to asylum seekers, having signed up to Positive Action in Housing's Room for Refugees Hosting Network, and to regular visitors from the Iona Community and peace movements as well as the families of her three children and eight grandchildren.
Speaking about her hosting experiences, Sally said:
“I had many lovely people come and go, but one of the most surprising stories came from a young man who came just for a short while,” said Sally. “It turned out he had been bodyguard to the president of Iraq. So I felt very safe with him in the house”
When Sally was no longer fit enough to host, she kept in touch with many of her guests, including Ngqabutho, 26, from Zimbabwe. Another is Kzak, 54, originally from Somalia, who saw her family massacred by rebels. She and Sally still see each other most weeks.
“When I first came to Sally’s house it was very hard,” said Kzak. “I would still cry. But she taught me English and slowly we began to laugh together.”
Sally remained very active with the Iona Community, raising funds by persuading a well-known Scottish artist to donate a painting, which was then leased to donors at £1,000 a year, for a decade (though it graced her walls first).
In Glasgow she became active as an elder at Wellington Church, with Positive Action in Housing, the refugee night shelter at Anderston and spent many hours attending hearings or writing on her laptop in support of asylum claims. She also found time for book groups, enjoyed tennis into her late 70s and was always happy to play or teach bridge.
Sally and Jack's grown-up sons, Mark and Stephen, and their daughter, Jackie, were their pride and joy in a close and caring family circle, and their progress in life a great source of happiness to them both.
As well as volunteering and donating to the cause, Sally was also a member of the Iona Community. Below is Sally's first hand experience of refugee hosting. She will always be remembered with fondness and love.
My experience of Room for Refugees by Sally Beaumont
After attending a conference where I had heard and seen a video about Positive Action in Housing, I decided to
contact them. I phoned Positive Action in Housing (P.A.I.H.) a charity which helps all refugees, but particularly those who have been made destitute because our government has refused their asylum claim, leaving them in limbo. They help to provide accommodation for them, often in private homes. The asylum seekers are awaiting an appeal since they cannot be returned to their country of origin. It is too dangerous. Our government states “No person who has sought our protection need be destitute whilst waiting for an application to be decided.” This is a quote from a Home Office letter sent to my M.P. on 9 March 2010 on my behalf. This is the theory but not the practice.
PAIH were delighted. I was apprehensive, and that is an understatement. I did ask if I could have women and that was noted. Very soon after, the telephone rang and a lovely female voice asked if I was able to take in a destitute refugee. Assuming it was a woman I agreed. After a little persuasion I accepted a 19 year old Iraqi man.
So a little while later Asif arrived accompanied by the Case Worker. We were both nervous. Here was a
young man of whom I knew nothing and who knew nothing of me. Asif had slept rough before he came. He
was tall and thin, his face was craggy with dark shadows under his eyes. His clothes had seen better days, but
he had dressed as neatly as possible. I thought of a 19 year old granddaughter of mine, and wondered what on
earth would she do if she was in Asif’s shoes? What did he think of me - a white-haired elderly woman
The PAIH case worker handed me a letter. I was impressed by the letter which was both formulaic but also
personal. It gave me bare facts, name, age, country of origin, length of time in Glasgow, ability to speak
English, (this time it was basic English) an assurance that should there be difficulties I could contact the
manager at the Offices. Let me say at this point I have never had to do that; I have discovered that human
beings who have to flee from their own country are usually responsible, but so vulnerable, willing, but
apprehensive, sometimes afraid, and from my experience always grateful. The letter also said :We realise that
accepting someone into your home is not without risk. We have never had any difficulties with clients staying
with volunteers in this way but cannot take responsibility for any problems that may arise.
My first action on the arrival of a guest is to give them a set of keys. I want them to know that they can come
and go as they choose, and that I trust them. Another significant piece of advice PAIH gives “We do not normally ask our clients for details of why they left their country of origin. However please feel free to discuss this with him/her if you feel he/she wishes to and it is appropriate.”
This has turned out to be important. No questions need to be asked at first. Trust will build and then if the
asylum seekers wish it, the situation can be discussed, but in their own time and on their own terms
Back to Asif, he told me that he had applied for Section 4. This would give him support in the form of
accommodation and food vouchers to the sum of £35 weekly until his case was resolved. This is always a
problem because applying for Section 4 does not happen at once. The client must wait. It can take several days
or several months. During this waiting time the asylum seeker is in limbo with neither accommodation nor
food, hence PAIH brought Asif to my door. They had given him a small amount for expenses for such things
as bus fares. A neighbour once asked me how much I received for taking in asylum seekers. She seemed to
think the government gave me money for this. I was able to tell her that they did not. Asif stayed about a week.
He slept a great deal and ate with me. He was staying with me on a Sunday, and although a Muslim, he asked
if he could come to church with me. I naturally said yes, he was welcome. He came with me and I discovered he could read music, so the hymn I did not know, he sang. His section 4 came through a few days later so he
was given accommodation, and left. He thanked me very sincerely in his broken English. I wished him luck and never saw him again.
Zahir from Afghanistan
Zahir spoke good English. His language was colourful, staccato and often abbreviated. His first language was Pushto. I never fully discovered his background. He told me after a few days that his father had been a general
and he had been a soldier. His father had been killed in an ambush and at that same time Zahir had lost his eye.
He had had to flee. How he had arrived in Glasgow I do not know, but he was obviously vulnerable and
needed asylum. He was a very tall man with a good physique; his loss of an eye made his face lop-sided and
gave him a threatening expression.
The first morning I asked him if he had slept well. – Hesitation - I think he was not sure how to
answer. Should he be polite, or tell it as it was?
“No” he said, “the cover (duvet) is too short.” He explained, miming, that if he put the duvet over his head,
like at home, his feet came out; if it covered his feet, his head was cold! I found another blanket and also
suggested a hot water bottle. With a slightly pained expression he said “I don’t drink hot water”. I showed him
the hot water bottle and his expression turned into a smile. Every morning he brought it through to the kitchen
remarking what a wonderful thing it was. It intrigued him so much I gave it to him when he left.
He was always interested in talking and told me a little of his childhood. This made him very sorrowful. He
loved television and would still be watching at two or three a.m. I came in late one night and he was watching
some important Snooker match. He asked me if I knew the game. I did not answer as I wanted to go to bed, but
a detailed explanation followed. He had had a snooker table at home, so I heard a little more of his
He would ask to use the internet on my computer and obviously understood the intricacies of it. So often the
asylum seekers have such skills and abilities, and in most cases they want to work, in fact above all else they
desire to work. It seems ironic the government does not allow them to work, and so provide for themselves,
and at the same time pay taxes.
He too received his Section 4 and disappeared from my life.
Michael from Zimbabwe
A word or two here about Zimbabwe, this is a country, once known as the “bread basket of Africa”, which has
been devastated in recent years. Any sign of complaint can and is met with arrest and imprisonment, or worse
disappearance. I have received many from Zimbabwe. However this is not the only country to which the UK
does not return people. There is also Iraq, Aghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea. It is not always the case that people
from these countries can stay. They have to provide proof and evidence of danger and persecution, this is
often extremely difficult to obtain, given that they have had to flee for their lives.
Michael arrived one evening, tired and dispirited. After something to eat, and in the early evening he said he
wished to go to bed. However before he went, he asked me if I had any Christian books. This was an excellent
question to ask in my house. I found him four books very quickly.
Michael too came to church with me, and learnt that there was a drumming group that met weekly. He was a
drummer and enjoyed attending their meetings while he was with me. This did not last long and fairly soon he
too was given accommodation. He then had problems picking up his vouchers each week, so once I
accompanied him. At that time they were being given out by a private company called “Angel”, a misnomer if
I ever knew one. This too was an eye opener for me, seeing the attitude and the difficulties put in the way of
Zizzi from Zimbabwe
PAIH brought Zizzi to me. Quietly spoken, ready to help, she settled down and waited patiently, or so it
seemed, for her section 4. She came to church with me and was welcomed. Ten days after she arrived she
received her Section 4 and was housed in a small flat. She was a most attractive woman in her 30’s, slim and
with an upright bearing . She had a charming demureness, yet she was not deferential. She was her own
person, making decisions and prepared to work hard. I understand that she came to the UK to go to university but not all had gone to plan. After obtaining her degree from the Metropolitan University in London she took a job to provide for herself and be able to send
money to her children who were still in Zimbabwe. Her great desire was to bring them, a teenage boy and 10
year old girl, to Britain. She was in constant contact with them and provided for their needs from the small
amount of money she was earning. At this time she was paying taxes and national insurance. However it was a
blow to find that her visa had expired and she was forced to apply for asylum. She came to Scotland, of her
own volition but was refused asylum. Now she was in limbo, she would not be able to return to Zimbabwe
because it was too dangerous, neither was she allowed to stay here. What should she do? I wonder what I
would have done. In her case she started the process of claiming Section
4 for her. Meanwhile she needed a place to stay, so she was brought to me.
The long drawn-out process of applying for “leave to remain” commenced. She was not allowed to work; she
only had vouchers to the tune of £35 a week. She persevered with her claim and a year later in March 2009,
much to her delight she was given “leave to remain”. She came bursting into my flat with the news, “at last I
can work and bring my now tall, lovely son and my mischievous, happy daughter to live with me”. The
euphoria did not last very long. She now had to find a flat, a job and ways of being united with her children
who were always begging her to bring them to the UK. This latter was now a possibility but so many hurdles
Sylla from Guinea
My phone rang one cold snowy day in 2010 and I was asked to take in a woman who only spoke French.
Sylla, a downcast woman in her 30’s, arrived; tired and tear-stained she drank a cup of tea and indicated by
miming that she wanted to sleep. I gave her keys to the flat that I give to all when they arrive and assured her
that I would be in if she needed anything. Again I gave her a fleeced-covered hot water bottle which I hoped
would comfort her. She took it to bed..
Next morning she appeared still not looking rested, nor well, carrying a brown envelope and a brown paper
parcel. These she handed to me, so I realised I was meant to open them. The envelope contained several
copies of a letter from a consultant at Gartnavel Hospital, addressed to the Home Office. I read the letter with a
sinking heart. It started “Should the recipient of this letter intend to return this woman to her country of origin
they will be signing her death warrant.” It then detailed all her medical problems, I understood only one of
them, and she had HIV. The parcel contained her antiretroviral drugs and other medication which were to be
kept in the fridge. I helped her reading the instructions, mainly by miming! I did have some long ago
unremembered French but it was not like her French. In fact the next few days improved both our miming
skills. I often think of her and wonder where she did, PAIH sent a case worker for her after about a week, they
had found somewhere for her to stay. This was not before she had graphically mimed to me how four soldiers
had come and abducted her husband at gun point, and then each had raped her. My horror must have shown
and she broke down in tears. I suppose there are many like her, and I can only assume that that is why she had
AIDS. Words fail me. What comfort could I give her? As she left I gave her the hot water bottle and she
Sha-Ling from China
If you leave China with no appropriate travel documents China will not allow you back into your country. Sha-
Ling’s English was very basic and she was nearly 7 months pregnant. She could not be deported but had no
support. She had some money from PAIH and was anxious to cook her own food which she had bought. She
was extremely polite and always tidied up after her cooking, often tidying up after mine too. She was small
and neat, despite her pregnancy, and anxious to learn. She was not well and often in pain while she stayed
with me spending most of her time indoors. Then she moved on. However I did keep up with her and she had a
beautiful baby boy. My daughter and I helped with clothes, pram and baby goods. She has been accommodated
in a pleasant house which she shares with another asylum seeker. A young mother being alone with a new
baby in a strange country, not knowing the language, is very hard to imagine. I know I would not have liked to
be in her shoes.
I often do not see them again. I tell them that if they need me, contact me. I feel they often wish to forget this
time of being in limbo, worrying about their families at home, and what is going to become of them.