RESIDENTS across Melksham are preparing to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes in the coming weeks.
To help support the refugees arriving in the area and their hosts, Melksham man, Stuart Pearce, has created a new group to compile a network of support in the community, as well as helping potential hosts connect with Ukrainian refugees looking for somewhere to stay in the UK.
The group is creating connections between hosts in the area – locals who have offered a room or rooms in their home for refugees to stay in; exploring options to offer services such as counselling, and lessons in both English and Ukrainian; recruiting volunteers to help refugees contact the relevant authorities, such as schools, when they arrive; and organise events in the community to help integrate refugees into the community.
They are also helping the refugees and their hosts navigate the visa application process once connected and help arrange transport to the UK.
Almost a month ago, Stuart Pearce created the Facebook group ‘Ukraine support group – Melksham /Corsham /Lacock & Chippenham’ after noticing that locals – including his own family – who had registered with the government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme were struggling to connect with Ukrainian refugees needing somewhere to stay.
The group has helped to create a number of connections between locals and Ukrainians, and Stuart has told Melksham News that up to 50 visa applications are now being processed. In addition to the connections created by the group, around 30 hosts with established connections to Ukrainian refugees have joined the Facebook group, helping to create and strengthen relationships between hosts in the area.
“It’s working really well at the moment,” said Stuart, who explained that recently the group has helped three Ukrainian mothers and their children – all related – find places to stay with families across Melksham and begin the visa application process.
“Over the coming weeks, we will start to see people arrive – we had the first family of five approved yesterday – they are going to Thingley, just outside the area [between Corsham and Lacock].”
About why he was inspired to set up the support group, Stuart, who is ex-military, explained, “In 2003 I was involved in the Iraq invasion, so the heartstrings were pulled – I’ve seen it from being the invading/liberating force – and I’ve seen how it affects the people that live in these areas of conflict, they go into survival mode, they get desperate – so I wanted to help others.”
To help support the group’s efforts, local couple Graham and Lisa Ellis – who are expecting to welcome a Ukrainian mother and her three older children into their Melksham home – have created a website with a ‘specialist matching database.’
The website allows potential hosts, Ukrainian refugees, and those wanting to offer skills and services to help, to register their details – and behind the scenes, the information is used to match hosts with refugees. To ease the process, information on the website is available in both English and Ukrainian.
Package of support
“Some of the stories we’ve been hearing and reading from the people in Ukraine has been really traumatic. Not just the official news stuff,” said Graham speaking to Melksham News. “These people are going to need all sorts of help such as counselling, help to keep them in touch with family that remain in the Ukraine, and help with languages – so the group is putting together a package of support – for refugees and hosts.
“So, what started off as a matching service has become much more!”
As the community prepares to welcome refugees to the area, work is picking up pace to organise the support needed for both the Ukrainians and their hosts.
“There’s a massive amount of work to do when they arrive,” explains Stuart, “from connecting them up to the relevant services, integrating them into the community, English lessons, and equally what I am hearing now, is people want Ukrainian lessons. And what’s been great is the response from the community, I’ve already had four people who speak both languages come forward asking how they can help.
“So, the next stage is organising the people who have offered to help into teams – so far we’ve had 29 people offering their help and support. Teams will cover things such as welfare – so that’s doing research, preparing information about how to access services such as schools, healthcare and finding work.
“And an events team that will organise language lessons, and work with other local groups and refugee support groups similar to ours, to organise events like mother and child meet-ups, so they don’t feel alienated when they arrive.
“We are also still looking for hosts, we have a reasonable number of hosts, but generally they can take between 1 to 3 people, so we’re looking for more. If anyone is looking to offer a room to Ukrainian refugees, or anyone who has also found a family to help, join our group. The more intertwined we can become the better.
“And if you aren’t able to host, but would still like to get involved, come along to any events that we organise or register with us on the website – there are so many skills and services in the community, and a willingness to help – please get in touch!”
To find out more and to register with the group, either as a potential host or as someone who can help offer support, visit the website: www.ukraineuk.info; and join the ‘Ukraine support group – Melksham /Corsham /Lacock & Chippenham’ Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/ 473302704525249
Across the county, Wiltshire Council has said that residents from 218 households so far have offered safe homes for people fleeing the war torn country – and to help the council has provided additional staffing to provide checks and support to the growing number of Ukrainian refugees who are due to settle in Wiltshire under the government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme.
Leader of Wiltshire Council, cllr Richard Clewer said, “Once again Wiltshire residents have responded with generosity and kindness to people fleeing their homes in Ukraine. Our latest figures show we have 584 people matched to 218 households in Wiltshire – a remarkable figure. We know that each and every one of those individuals coming to Wiltshire will be assured of a warm welcome.”
The government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme offers a route to those who want to come to the UK and who have someone willing to provide them with a home. Individuals, charities, community groups and businesses can volunteer accommodation.
Hosts can provide accommodation for as long as they are able and for a minimum expectation of six months. Those arriving need to meet standard security checks. Hosts and all adults in the hosting households will also be subject to security checks and may also be subject to safeguarding checks.
People interested can record their interest at www.gov.uk/homes-for-ukraine to receive updates and more information on how to apply.