As we watch the crisis in Ukraine continue to unfold in the news and from reports from friends, family and colleagues, hundreds of members have opened up homes and properties to refugees in need.
At the end of February, the news broke that Russia had initiated a ‘special military operation’ in the Donbas region of Ukraine, which launched Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In the days that followed, members reached out to the CLA for more information about how they could help and expressing an interest in hosting refugees. To gauge interest, the CLA sent out an email asking for those who were interested to get in touch, and it has been contacted by more than 400 members offering accommodation.
In mid-March, the UK Government announced its Homes for Ukraine scheme. Initially available to those who knew Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in the UK, it was then opened up to people volunteering to be a sponsor for refugees.
The CLA also created an online hub providing information on government schemes, advice and answers to common questions, as well as signposting to other organisations
Since then, several members have been in touch to explain how they are helping fleeing refugees by opening up accommodation they have available and even space in their own homes.
Former CLA president Mark Bridgeman and his wife Lucia had a property on their Fallodon Estate in Northumberland that was available and were motivated to help out by a neighbour, John Cresswell, who had connections in Ukraine.
“He had worked in Ukraine as a consultant to a farming business for 10 years, and it was his determination to help that led us to get involved,” says Mark. “The company he works for was able to organise the visas for the families looking to come to the UK, which was extremely helpful. “We had a three-bedroom house in our stable yard that was being used as a second home, and the existing tenants agreed to give it up for as long as it is needed.”
In May, two families came to stay at the property – two sisters, three children and a grandmother. However, offering accommodation is only a small part of the help these families need once they are in the UK. “Anyone looking to do this should not enter into it lightly, as it is not just accommodation,” says Lucia.
It is a significant commitment you are taking on because they need you to be their sponsors, guides and mentors. You will need to use your local connections and knowledge to help them.
“Since our two families have arrived, I have taken them to the bank to set up an account, I’ve taken them shopping, to the doctors and got the children into the local primary school. Everyone has been incredibly helpful, but it is very time-consuming, and there is a high level of responsibility. “They are very proud, practical and capable – they want practical help so they can get on with their life.”
A supportive community
Inspired by the public’s outpouring of support, Johnny Wake, Managing Partner at Courteenhall Estate, and Property Manager Philippa Fitzgerald decided that they had the facilities and resources to offer a family accommodation that had recently been refurbished.
“We wanted to do our bit,” says Johnny. “There was a real groundswell of feeling across the country.” Philippa adds: “We found the family by coincidence. We were contacted by our HR consultancy who saw a post on Facebook about a family that needed accommodation after the father had secured work nearby. I then got in touch with the mother to say we wanted to sponsor them."
CLA Charitable Trust Chair Bridget Biddell agrees that it is a very time-intensive process, and that families need a lot of support once they arrive. She is currently hosting two families – one is residing on the second floor of her home, and another is occupying a vacant cottage. “There was a massive strength of feeling when the crisis first unfolded, and I felt like I could do something to help.
“The accommodation is the easy part really – everyone has been an amazing help, but the systems and structures in place are hard to work with. “The families are amazing and resilient – I am full of admiration for them and am so impressed by their work ethic. “The future is so uncertain, and we are just living day to day at the moment. It was quite emotional to start with and mentally exhausting when you consider everything they have gone through.”
The CLA is working with a voluntary organisation, Sunflower Sisters, to match refugees with members who are able to help. It has 29,700 members, and it has so far matched more than 700 Ukrainians with sponsors and accommodation. For more information, email: email@example.com.