Saturday 17 February was One Day Without Us – a day marked as a celebration of the invaluable contribution of migrants and migration to society in the UK.

Neil is a HOPE not hate volunteer in Sheffield. HNH Sheffield was one of a number of groups involved in organising 1DWU celebrations in the city. This is his account of the day.

A Samba band to lead our march might at first have seemed a bit incongruous on a cold and pale grey February day. Let alone a florescent pink Samba band. But the infectious rhythms spread warmth through the gathering crowd and suddenly all had smiles on their faces and were chatting to each other. Once the march set off, it suddenly felt more of a carnival than a demonstration. Perfect.

The positivity spread out from the snaking group of marchers to the shoppers and passers-by, people stopping, taking photos and generally just smiling. Not universally, of course, the pink of the Samba band didn't completely tint my spectacles. We did have the frowns and the sneers here and there, and at a later point even a half-hearted attempt at a Nazi salute, clearly intended as a joke. Some joke. But these reactions didn't come close to puncturing the growing mood of celebration. And that positivity continued when we reached the Town Hall, with a series of speeches which – while they often expressed righteous anger and calls to action – more than anything expressed the joy of diversity. On a day intended to highlight how we might struggle as a society without migrant contributions, more than anything we actually ended up celebrating our diversity and what we have in common. Perfect.

The march and rally at the Town Hall was the culmination of a day of meetings, actions and discussions elsewhere in the city, and some of us had gathered earlier at Sanctuary, a place of refuge for asylum seekers established as the base of City of Sanctuary in Sheffield, a movement which started here but has now spread across the whole of the UK and even beyond. Another reason to be proud of our city.

While there I got chatting to Zaher (not his real name), a Yemeni asylum seeker who arrived in Sheffield a month ago via Singapore and then Leeds. Unable to return to his home country he is seeking a permanent home for him and his young family – who are still left behind in Singapore. He is grateful for Skype and reflects how much easier his separation is for him than it would have been in years gone by. His background is as a senior manager in the shipping industry and he hopes to continue in that line of work in the UK if he is granted leave to remain. I ask him of his experience of Sheffield over his first month. He says it has been fantastic – everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I ask if he has experienced anything less positive at any point. He looks at me blankly, almost quizzically. Not at all, he says, and repeats just how friendly and supportive everyone has been, starting with the shopkeeper who pointed him in the direction of Sanctuary soon after he arrived.

Back to the Town Hall, and the star of the show was Nagat, a primary-school aged girl who described the three generations of racism that her own Yemeni family has experienced in the city. She concluded her brief but fluent and powerful speech by leading the crowd in a chant: “We fight, we win, we never, never give in”. Perhaps the experience of Zaher shows that slowly, but surely, we are winning. But we need to continue the fight until that is everyone's story. We need to stand up for EU migrants, non-EU migrants, and for the beautiful and inspirational diversity of the city we love.

Images courtesy of Tim Dennell.