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From crisis to compassion – Ukrainian refugees make a new life in west Norfolk

Julie from the Hanseatic Union talking to Martha, a volunteer at the welcome centre after arriving in the UK as a refugee.

Published: Tuesday, 10th May 2022

From help with paperwork to reducing isolation – west Norfolk’s warm welcome has given people hope and the chance of a fresh start.

Cllr Stuart Dark in the Welcome Centre, standing next to some of the artwork drawn by children who have visited the centre.


Cllr Stuart Dark, MBE, leader of the borough council, said: “Working together with the leaders of all the groups we have been able to provide a welcome centre that is providing a safe and welcoming environment.

“People have arrived here after being put in in circumstances they could never have imagined but we are able to give them really good support.

“We are showing them the compassion that exists across west Norfolk for them, particularly those people who are hosting them and welcoming them into their homes.

“I’d like to give credit to everyone in here who is working hard to support refugees arriving and particularly the wonderful Ukrainians who are volunteering here.”

Julie Chaplin, project lead for the Hanseatic Union, which works to support migrants, said: “Everyone who comes here says it’s the hardest thing they have ever done and a hard choice to leave.

“People arrive with almost nothing. Maybe a mobile phone, maybe a few documents. Many have nothing else, not even clothes.

“We help them with their practical needs – we give them vouchers so they can get food and clothes, for example – and we can help them with paperwork, finding jobs and getting their children into school. We also help them to start the recovery process from the trauma they have experienced in fleeing a war zone.

“Now some of the first people who have arrived are volunteering for us and helping others who have been through similar experiences.”

Olena, from Kiev, had nothing but praise for the help she had received in dealing with her practical needs and also the isolation she experienced on arrival.

She is among those who have started volunteering at the welcome centre and has found it rewarding: “I feel better when I am here and see lost people, they don’t know what to do and I want to be useful for somebody.

“These people are doing a great job; I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t find this place. Please tell more people about it – every person needs to know about this place!”

So far the welcome centre has supported around 50 families in person, and many more by phone and email.

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