According to figures obtained by the Lancaster Guardian, 134 refugees have been offered accommodation in the district under the Homes For Ukraine scheme by the 72 residents who have been confirmed as sponsors. As of last week, 62 had actually arrived.
Across the Lancashire County Council area, 423 sponsors have been confirmed and matched up with just over 800 people who have fled their homeland in the wake of the Russian invasion - 280 of whom are already here.
Lancaster City Council leader Caroline Jackson praised the genoristy of those who have pledged to help Ukrainian refugees in the most practical of ways.
“I am truly proud of how local organisations, communities and individuals have opened up their hearts and homes to refugees seeking sanctuary in the area, having escaped the unimaginable terrors of war and violence in their homeland.
“The number of sponsors and refugees that have so far been welcomed into the Lancaster district is testament to the development of a strong and committed network of volunteers, specialist organisations, statutory bodies, voluntary and faith sector organisations. Realising the drawbacks of the government scheme, residents in our district have pooled all possible contacts they had in the eastern European areas in order to reach individual refugee families. They have worked together tirelessly to ensure the travel funding and travel support necessary and then to make the families welcome.
“In playing a key role in supporting the integration of Ukranian families into our local communities, we continue to hold regular meetings with our partners and other supporting bodies and individuals to share ideas on how this can be improved further.
“I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of Lancaster City Council to thank groups and individuals from across the district – especially those in the
Lune Valley and Morecambe – that have already done so much to support Ukraine, from sending donations to expressing an interest in hosting refugees, Cllr Jackson added.”
Under the Homes for Ukraine initiave, prospective sponsors have to identify a refugee before applying to bring them to the UK. There are various charities and informal social media groups which are attempting to match refugees with sponsors.
Magdalena Matuszewska, a membert of the Polish community in Preston, recently made an aid trip to the border between her birth country and its stoic but savaged neighbour - and said that many of those she met who had fled the Russian invasion would like to seek sanctuary in the UK until it is safe for them to return.
She has created a Facebook group - UK Supporting Ukrainian Refugees - designed to facilitate initial contact between Ukrainians in need and Britons with space in their homes, in order to give both parties the chance to chat before making a firm commitment.
“If they want to see and speak to each other [online], I can help - and then they can see if they are okay with each other on both sides,” Magdalena explained.
She also said that the personal stories she encountered at the border left an impression on her and her partner and 15-year-old son, who all made the trip together.
“We [ended up] on a train with a woman of about 35, who had her 18-month old daughter with her and her son, who was 14. She had just one suitcase of luggage and was very tired and had been travelling for hours.
“It touched us, because we remember what our grandparents suffered in the Second World War. How the Russians are treating people in Ukraine [today] is similar to what they did [to] the Polish back then.”
Meanwhile, a former Lancashire MP has warned that the Homes for Ukraine scheme – while laudible – is not “a long-term solution”.
David Borrow, who represented South Ribble between 1997 and 2010, says that the UK should consider how it could replicate the support it provided for Kosovan refugees who were welcomed into the country in the late 1990s during the war in their homeland.
Back then, the Labour politician said, those who had arrived here in search of sanctuary were put up in properties which were given over for that purpose.
“The concern I have got about what we have put in place [for] Ukrainian refugees [is that] it all seems to be about welcoming people into our homes [and] looking after them within our families.
“I can't see how that is a solution for more than a few months. I think there are real risks around people staying with strangers, however good natured …for more than a very short time.
“And I'm not sure that we - either in Westminster or local government - have yet come to recognise the scale of what we are going to need to do to provide refuge for large numbers of people fleeing Ukraine until they are able to go back again.
“I pray that they will be able to go back again in less than two years - but it could be a lot longer,” Cllr Borrow told a meeting of Preston City Council, where he is now a cabinet member.
Earlier this month, it emerged that the government had had to find alternative accommodation for around 600 Ukrainian refugees at short notice after their hosts were deemed unsuitable.
The Observer reported that some of the sponsors who had put themselves forward had a criminal record. The government told the paper that no visas are issued until the Home Office has completed background checks on every adult in a sponsor household.
All households will be visited by a council representative to ensure the accommodation is fit for purpose, while local authorities will also facilitate basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks – or enhanced checks if under-18s are going to be staying in a sponsor household. Unaccompanied under-18s cannot be housed by sponsors who are unrelated to them.
The Lancashire Refugee Integration Team is also in regular contact with Lancashire Police and the pan-Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnerships, to ensure safeguarding is maintained.
Seconded staff from the county council's family wellbeing service are providing initial welfare checks to every family arriving from Ukraine, while commissioned casework staff are providing welfare checks for single adults.
Sponsors and their guests are provided with Lancashire-specific handbooks and the county council's integration team is hosting webinars about how to deal with trauma, registering for benefits and getting English language assistance.
County Hall is also working with district authorities and community groups to provide integration activities for Ukrainians who have travelled to Lancashire.
LANCASHIRE SPONSORSHIP STATISTICS
As of 11th May, this is how many sponsors have been matched with a refugee in each Lancashire council area, how many refugees they can accommodate in total and how many Ukrainian people have so far arrived:
Blackburn with Darwen - 47 sponsors, 102 refugees - 18 arrived
Blackpool - 31 sponsors, 70 refugees - 39 arrived
Burnley - 22 sponsors, 43 refugees (19 under-18s) - 5 arrived
Chorley - 36 sponsors, 51 refugees (13 under-18s) - 37 arrived
Fylde - 47 sponsors, 123 refugees (58 under-18s) - 37 arrived
Hyndburn - 18 sponsors, 30 refugees (7 under-18s) - 5 arrived
Lancaster - 72 sponsors, 134 refugees (48 under-18s) - 62 arrived
Pendle - 24 sponsors, 51 refugees (15 under-18s) - 13 arrived
Preston - 43 sponsors, 81 refugees (17 under-18s) - 33 arrived
Ribble Valley - 34 sponsors, 65 refugees (27 under-18s) - 19 arrived
Rossendale - 24 sponsors, 39 refugees (11 under-18s) - 6 arrived
South Ribble - 35 sponsors, 51 refugees (15 under-18s) - 16 arrived
West Lancashire - 38 sponsors, 86 refugees (32 under-18s) - 27 arrived
Wyre - 30 sponsors, 50 refugees (18 under-18s) - 20 arrived
Sources: Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Council, Blackburn with Darwen Council
WANT TO HELP?
Lancashire County Council has an online advice page for people interested in finding out more about the Homes For Ukraine scheme.
The following organisations can also help: