- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
On Thursday 17th March over 100 Whitstable residents answered the call to gather, learn and organise a community response to the need of Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland. The meeting was called by Cllr Chris Cornell & the Rev Rachel Webbley, with guest speakers Svenja Powell (Director, Canterbury Welcomes Refugees) and Domenica Pecaro (Refugee Officer, Canterbury Diocesse).
The meeting opened with a brief introduction by Cllr Cornell about what we knew and didn’t know – the situation and government response is fast moving and still unclear. In summary, he noted that:
- Canterbury is organising. The Ukrainian community in Canterbury have formed a single point of access where people moving to the area can access advice and support in their own language. This group can be contacted by email at [email protected] or through a regular drop in which is being run by the Society of Friends in Canterbury on Friday afternoons.
- The government has provided a visa corridor for people fleeing the violence. People being offered a 3 year visa will access to work and benefits. Applications can be made online
- We expect the migration to happen in three waves. The first wave will be of people with a family connection to the area – we know of 7 families in the district to which this applies, including one in Whitstable. The second wave will see families able to offer accommodation via the government’s Home for Ukraine scheme. A third wave will allow businesses, charities and potentially local authorities to offer sanctuary but not much is known about this yet.
- The Homes for Ukraine Scheme allows for people with spare space to apply to be a sponsor. As a sponsor they will receive £350 per month, per household and be expected to offer accommodation for a period of 6 months. They will be expected to help their guest access benefits, schools and medical services – they may need to be help with their transport to this country. The local authority will recieved £10,500 for every guest who settles in the area but we do not currently know how this money will be apportioned. Potential sponsors will be vetted prior to being matched, those with valid DBS checks for all people in a house over 18 may be prioritised before criminal checks can be put in place.
- The Homes for Ukraine scheme only allows visa to be issued if a prospective sponsor is able to identify a named person to host. Both potential sponsors and guests are given a unique reference number when they apply to the scheme. You can identify Ukrainians needing help through Facebook groups, personal contacts or by registering on a charity matching service such as www.homesforukraine.org.uk run by REACT
- Interest in Whitstable may be low, we simply don’t know how Ukranians perceive the welcome they will receive here and how much they know of our area. People may naturally be more interested in staying nearer their homeland or in Slavic speaking countries
- We need money. As a community we would like to be able to support sponsors and individuals before benefits kick in. Whitstable Rotary has kindly offered to set up a dedicated fund for this purpose. You can contribute online here.
- We response in our town has been huge. There will be an opportunity for people to share their skills as we develop a ‘Welcome Team’ for those moving to our area. Offers of jobs, support, training should all sent to Chris Cornell via [email protected] initially
The meeting opened up to question and answers from the floor before breaking into three groups where people interested in helping organise accommodation, fundraising and community skills sharing each consider the next steps. The groups highlighted that:
- We thought the community should focus on supporting local people to sponsor rather than try to identify Ukranians in need. Key to this is the provision of high quality information and peer support for people going through the process. When people arrive we will need both key contacts for local agencies and also members of the community with experience of helping people navigate access to benefits, education and employment opportunities that the community sponsors can lead on
- We have an immediate need for people with language skills and able to support people with crisis counselling. We willl need a regular social space in which people moving into the area can also support one another.
- People making contact with Ukrainians are fast identifying other extended family or friends who are also in need of support. We need a dedicated online space where these offers can be quickly distributed to ensure that, where possible, people are able to relocated nearby to people they know. Agile communication is key.
- We should immediately start fundraising and engaging the community by developing a name for our efforts. Donations needs to be collected online and in person through shops and local churches. A town-wide raffle led by local traders was discussed. An Amazon wishlist for sponsors needing practical things could be set up at a later date.
- We need a centralised list of everyone offering support that is held by a trusted body (Citizens Advice) but openly accessible by our group, sponsors and Canterbury for Ukraine. Offers of specialist teaching, children’s counselling, clothes and food were immediately offered.
Before some people can commit some practical details of the scheme need clarifying. In particular people want to know how the £350 will affect their access to benefits, whether people with lodgers will be reclassified as HMO’s if they take someone in, what happens if a sponsorship breaks down and what does the government consider a suitable sized space for various family groups. At the end of the meeting we agreed to do the following:
In the next week:
- Consult on a name for the group. Form a Facebook group where people can share information. Form a WhatsApp broadcast group where information recieved from local agencies and the local authority can be distributed.
- Launch an in person and online fundraising effort for people coming to the area
- Distribute further information on the process for sponsoring after the matching phase opens on the 18th March.
In the next month:
- Contact and lean upon named individuals who have offered to take forward the three work streams. Anyone interested in volunteering further to help should contact Chris
- Produce a list of place and people that sponsors can rely on i.e. organisations providing children’s toys, furniture, travel support.
- Draw up a community skills sharing database. Work with the Archdiocese to establish a ‘Welcome Team’ for Whitstable.
- Establish a regular social and peer support opportunity for sponsors and people moving into the area
- Map individuals and grant bodies we might be able to approach for funding
The sense of solidarity and support within for the idea of organising a community response is strong in our town. Thank you for everyone who attended.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”10″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]