THREE volunteers involved in the Alton Mutual Aid group during the pandemic have swung into action again, this time to help Ukrainian refugee families arriving in the town.
Penney Hames, Lisa Hillan and Paula Langley decided to resurrect the group after being contacted by residents wanting to help the refugees, mainly women and children.
Paula Langley is an East Hampshire District Council member for Eastbrooke and said: “We had sat and watched the awful events unfold in the Ukraine and wondered what we could do to help.
“I had already been approached by several residents when Lisa and Penney messaged me.
“It became clear that there was the need for a new group that initially supported those offering help; how to apply, how to find a family, and what they could offer.
“The response has been remarkable and I am truly humbled once again by people’s generosity.”
One Ukranian family, the first to arrive in Alton, is settling in well.
Ukrainian mother Biola recently arrived in Alton with her two young daughters Gabriella, eight, and Daniella, six, after fleeing Kyiv.
Her husband, Igor, is currently in Vinnytsia south west of Kyiv, helping women and children in Ukraine reach the border with Moldova.
Biola came to the UK not via the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but on a tourist visa that she had previously applied for to visit Scotland. She now hopes to get permission to stay when it runs out.
She said: “I didn’t want to leave Ukraine. I love Ukraine. But I was really overwhelmed by my emotions when I first came here and met people who don’t know us but who can support us with all this kindness for our family.
“I saw everybody wants to help us and I really feel not a guest but as a part of a family.”
They are being hosted in Alton by Lisa Hillan and her family, and Gabriella and Daniella have received a warm welcome at a local school.
Lisa, who is King’s Arms Youth Project manager, chair of governors at Eggar’s School, and on Alton Town Council’s Resilience Fund panel, said the panel has already approved £200 worth of Sainsbury’s vouchers for each refugee household.
She added: “The community response has been inspiring at every level, head teachers, local clergy, my own residents association – everyone is generous and eager to help in some way.
“Once again, Altonians show they are kind and caring.”
Family therapist Penney Hames said she and other trained therapists have offered free support for refugees who have witnessed war at first hand.
And the aid team has attracted offers of translation services from Ukrainians living in Alton.
Some have already joined Zoom calls between host families and refugees to help them navigate the complex visa system and get to know each other.
Some local people have offered rooms and shelter, and others have offered transport, friendship, clothes and other goods, and vital skills such as teaching English.
Other volunteers have contacted local businesses to see if they can help the families settle here.
And local gym Energique and Alton Leisure Centre’s Everyone Active, are looking at membership packages they could give.
Local business who would like to offer some free or discounted services, can post on the group’s Facebook page or email Cllr Langley on the address below.
The group have set up a Facebook page where you can offer support and find out more information about how to find a family looking for sponsors.