Sutton provides a warm welcome for Ukrainian refugees
published on 10 Jun 2022
Sutton Salvation Army Church has set up a weekly drop-in for Ukrainians to meet up with each other and fellow Ukrainians already living locally .
The initiative came about with support from the local council, after Sutton Salvation Army took part in the Community Sponsorship Scheme for Syrian refugees three years ago.
Gill Bonner a member of Sutton Salvation Army Church who co-ordinates the Drop-In, said: “It is a place for people to meet, whether they are newly-arrived guests, staying with families or Ukrainians who have already lived here for some time. They come together to relax, share information and experiences and to speak Ukrainian.”
A local Ukrainian resident who translates at the Drop-In said: “This is great because they can meet each other and are given so much useful information, which is what they need right now. They are very happy to come here because they can bring their children and are given toys and school uniforms. Most of all they get a warm welcome and develop friendships.”
WhatsApp and Facebook groups are used to spread the word, inviting people to come for refreshments, where there are toys for children, clothes and toiletries available and plenty of networking opportunities. Young mums described the Drop-In as ‘super!’, and said: ‘my children like coming to play’ and ‘it’s so good communicate with Ukrainians and volunteers here’.
Gill said: “Just being able to speak their own language is important, as well as being able to meet up with Ukrainians established in the UK. It makes a difference and people have a great time coming every week. People come in looking worried and then feel the buzz. They make friends and exchange numbers.”
They also find out about English lessons and how they can access places such as banks and schools.
“Most people who come are young mums or older people. You know they’ve left families behind; sons and dads. We don’t talk about that unless they bring it up – they know that we know about their situation. Nobody leaves their home unless they absolutely have to. There is a lot of trauma.”
Some Ukrainians hosted in the area are already working, while others have multiple needs, they struggle to get their children to school. Each family faces different issues, for example, one child secured a place in a local school, but the uniform was unaffordable. The team of volunteers managed to provide the uniform the next day.
Equally hosts, or sponsors, come from different circumstances; some want to get very involved while others work full time. Gill said: “It is a huge commitment to welcome strangers into your home, and it is useful to come here for friendship and to share what they are doing with each other.”
Veronica Williamson, another member of the church team said: “Some of the children have separation issues from their parents but gradually they are enjoying playing. We interact with the children, and they have really relaxed.”
Gill said: “One little girl came in on her third week and ran straight in without waiting for her mum. She feels at home; it is a space of warmth and safety.” Veronica added: “I have been delighted to get to look after a little girl in a pushchair who recognises me and can have a conversation with a sense of joy. People are fitting in.” She continued: “People don’t stop thanking us, they are very appreciative of the Christian support.”
Kate Cotterill, the Church Leader, described the reaction of a customer in the church coffee shop who said: “You are doing a fantastic job. I’ve watched them coming in and when they leave I can see a physical difference in them. It’s as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.”
The Drop-In will continue for as long as it is needed, and Kate said: “Any church could do the same. If you have a good relationship with your local council, and have the space and volunteers, it isn’t hard to do. It is uplifting and heart-rending for all the team to hear about people’s situations and wonderful to see them light up. This is a great opportunity for working together with other churches, the local authority and voluntary agencies too.”