North Dorset offers a welcome

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A local committee has been quietly working to help settle refugees – one family at a time – from all parts of the globe, reports Rachael Rowe
Audrey Burch is working with the Blandford Welcome Group as part of the government’s Community Sponsorship Scheme for refugees. Image: Rachael Rowe

Audrey Burch smiles as she describes the arrival of her Ukrainian guests from Kirvog Rog, west of Dnipro. It took 15 hours for them to travel between Dnipro and Lviv, and then on to Slovakia. From there they got a flight to Luton, where Audrey’s husband met them.
“And it took four hours of us working on WhatsApp to fill out the visa application!”
After the arduous journey, Katya and her two sons are settling into the Burch home in Milton Abbas. Katya’s husband has remained in Ukraine as he works in a steelworks, which is critical to the war effort.

A Syrian family
The Ukrainian family aren’t the first refugees Audrey has helped. She is working with the Blandford
Welcome Group, a committee established to support one family as part of the government’s Community Sponsorship Scheme for refugees. Taking one family at a time, they help them to resettle and build a
future in the town.
“We must raise £20,000 through fundraising, and we must also have a suitable property. Our guest family is classed as highly vulnerable and selected by the Home Office from a United Nations security camp (UNHCR). We have a three-bedroomed house in Blandford. Everything is vetted by the Home Office. We
receive a family, welcome them as a community and help them to be independent. Blandford School
has been fantastic.
“We had a Syrian family who stayed for 18 months – now the father has a job in Bournemouth and is settling there. ”

Polish Refugee past
I asked Audrey what it is about refugee work that interests her.
“We hear so much about people who have been pushed away from their homes. To me, a refugee hasn’t got a chance. So many of the problems in this country have been about economic migrants whose own governments have failed them.
“During the war, my father was a refugee from Poland. He came to this country. My grandfather was killed by the Germans. When the Red Army arrived, my father had to leave Poland. So when I hear the news, there are echoes of what my father went through in 1939. And it’s not the Russian language but the language of
Communism at fault.”

A rural community
Unlike refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan, who have settled mainly in urban areas, many Ukrainians are requesting to go to rural counties.
According to Government statistics Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are some of the most popular areas in England where people from Ukraine are choosing to live. They also have some of the highest numbers of hosts offering accommodation in the country – more than 700 people are expected in Dorset
in the coming weeks. Audrey’s one of several families hosting Ukrainian refugees in North Dorset. She describes how the whole community is helping:
“We looked for a school for the eldest boy, age 15. Do you know, Milton Abbey scooped him up.
They gave him a uniform and laptop and he has been there for two weeks. He is being looked
after by them and has two tutors. But, of course, they have small classes, which makes a difference.
He speaks English and translates for his mother. And the youngest boy (age seven) goes to school
in Winterborne Kingston. It is important he settles. Children in Ukraine start school at a later age
than we do in England.
“In Winterborne Stickland, they had a flag-raising ceremony. There are three families there. One
of the refugees, a woman, has already set up her own business.”
The fundraising continues with Audrey organising a raffle of paintings. “We have 100 paintings,
and people can spend £10 on a ticket. So they will either get a terrific painting, or they might get
a bloody awful one.”

To find out more about the Blandford Welcome Group, visit their website at blandfordwelcome.group

By Rachael Rowe

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