Family, friends and colleagues pay heartfelt tribute to Sheffield woman who touched many lives in the city

Tributes have been paid to a ‘passionate’ and ‘thoughtful’ Sheffield woman who played a key role in refugee support in the city.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 11:54 am

Family, friends and colleagues have been celebrating the life of academic and campaigner Gina Clayton who has died after a long illness.

Sheffield was the first in the UK to commit to becoming a ‘city of sanctuary’ and few embodied that ambition so completely as Gina Clayton.

Gina was an asylum academic and campaigner and there are many living in Sheffield (and elsewhere) today who have reason to be thankful to her.

Gina Clayton touched many people's lives in Sheffield.

One of those she supported, Victor Mujakachi, said: “She was a person of immense power which she exercised for the protection of those she cared about and causes she was passionate about. You felt protected, comfortable and cared for in her presence.”

Gina was a deeply thoughtful person, starting life as a Christian and going on to study theology at Oxford. She then moved to London and became active in the parish of St Matthews Brixton, but parted company with the Christian church after the progressive vicar left and patriarchal attitudes and practices reasserted themselves.

Gina first came to Sheffield as the solicitor at Sheffield Law Centre. She had trained as a solicitor so she could give more practical help to the people she had met while volunteering with the homeless.

In 1994, Gina was appointed senior lecturer in law at Huddersfield University teaching human rights law. While there, she researched and wrote what became the undergraduate textbook Immigration & Asylum Law, 2004, now in its ninth edition.

Gina Clayton.

Returning to Sheffield, it wasn’t long before Gina was a central figure in refugee support in the city. She was a trustee of City of Sanctuary, the charity that aims to create a culture of welcome for refugees, and later chaired the destitution charity ASSIST.

Recognising that asylum seekers lacked effective support to establish their right to refugee status, Gina co-founded South Yorkshire Refugee Law & Justice, to enable refused asylum seekers to submit a fresh claim.

In the words of lawyer and fellow trustee Carita Thomas, “Gina was a great lawyer. That is self-evident to all who worked with her but when I first met Gina she was so modest, describing herself as ‘just an academic, not a practitioner’. She gave us the best of both these worlds, bringing academic rigour to her practice and rolling up her sleeves to understand peoples’ lives through her research.”

Settled in Sheffield and an engaged Buddhist, in 2002, Gina married Mike Fitter, well-known for his work on social cohesion. Together they formed a strong partnership for positive development in the city.

Recently Gina got together with Clare Tudor to develop what is now the Refugee Rights Hub at Sheffield Hallam University, where staff, students and graduate interns help refugees bring family members to the UK. Colleagues speak of her huge “generosity of spirit, popularity and respect”.

Summing up Gina’s impact, City of Sanctuary’s co-founder Craig Barnett, said: “Her most profound influence on many of us was through her personal qualities - her spiritual maturity, grounded wisdom and her vision of our best possibilities.”

Gina lives on in Mike and the many individuals whose lives she touched.