Communities on Suffolk-Essex border establish support network to welcome Ukrainian refugee families with open arms
Dozens of Ukrainian families are finding their feet in south Suffolk, following the formation of a new village support network to help welcome refugees with open arms.
More than 200 people have signed up to a community group for villages on the Suffolk and Essex border, dedicated to helping new arrivals fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, which is now in its twelfth week.
The Facebook group – Helping Ukrainian Families in CO8 and Surrounding Villages – is offering accommodation for refugees settling in villages such as Bures St Mary, Bures Hamlet, Mounts Bures, Alphamstone and Lamarsh.
In addition, the initiative has also established a support infrastructure to help the families assimilate into their new community, by coordinating transport and education provisions, and sourcing basic essentials.
This includes English language lessons at Bures Primary School, which has provided a dedicated classroom to host the sessions three times a week.
Group founder Jan Kilpatrick explained the scheme was a result of frustrations among local people with being unable to make progress with the Government’s refugee sponsorship scheme.
“A month ago, when everyone was hopelessly trawling the internet trying to find people to sponsor, there were so many people in Bures who were all asking the same questions,” she told Suffolk News.
“Everyone signed up to the Government scheme to begin with, but there was this awful frustration, because everyone wanted to do something, but there was no way to find people.
“We were all talking about areas of expertise and common problems we were confronting. We had a couple of meetings and then delegated areas of responsibility.
“We’ve got a very sophisticated infrastructure. We’re got people teaching English at the primary school, a transport manager, a trauma manager and so on – it’s fairly extensive.”
As of Friday, a total of 28 Ukrainian families are being supported by the group, which also stages a weekly lunch club at St Mary’s Church in Bures St Mary.
She is inviting more residents who are able to offer a home to refugees, or who can provide assistance in other ways, to get involved.
“The school has been fundamental in setting up a lot of things and enabling the English lessons to take place,” added Jan.
“We’ve had people from as far as Colchester and Coggeshall, who are desperate to learn English, but the infrastructure isn’t there where they are.
“We found a lot of people through Facebook. In the beginning, it was a bit like internet dating, but, once you’ve got some names, you begin to find other people.
“I picked up some people on Thursday night, who are now staying with my daughter. They were a family in a refugee camp.
“I had never met them before, but you just run into each other’s arms, really. It’s phenomenal.
“It’s lovely to be able to do something rather than look on and experience that terrible sense of helplessness.”
To join the group, search ‘Helping Ukrainian Families in CO8 and Surrounding Villages’ on Facebook.