Free bus travel within the wider Hampshire area will be available for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the county.

The local authority is in the process of finalising arrangements with Hampshire’s three major bus operators - Stagecoach, First Bus and Bluestar – with the programme due to launch in the coming days.

There are now over 200 households in the Winchester district matched under the Homes for Ukraine scheme with refugee families. Many of these households are located in the surrounding villages, making travel into the city - where many support services and activities are based - particularly vital.

A joint letter was sent to Stagecoach at the end of April from Beth Flint, chair of Winchester City of Sanctuary, Estelle Bentham, who created the Ukraine Refugee Support Group, and Winchester City councillor John Tippett-Cooper calling for Stagecoach to make concessions on travel for refugees. Estelle Bentham also set up a petition which gathered over 1,500 signatures.

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Cllr Tippett-Cooper said: “It’s really positive that Stagecoach and other bus companies have agreed this step with Hampshire County Council. Huge credit to all of those involved at Hampshire County Council, but a special mention should go to Estelle Bentham and Beth Flint, who are doing vast amounts of work to support hosts and Ukrainian families.

“In the initial few months of resettlement, it is so important that refugees from different parts of the world arriving in Winchester district are able to access vital services and transport is often cited as a significant barrier to this. This move by the bus providers is also great news for Winchester’s hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme - these hosts are doing so much and deserve as much support as possible.

"Winchester continues to work hard to become a city of sanctuary for all refugees and we would love to see the bus providers extend this offer to all refugees who are being resettled or temporarily homed in Winchester District. There’s been huge support from people in Winchester for those fleeing violence during both the crisis in Afghanistan last summer and the War in Ukraine this year - Winchester is showing that it is a kind and open community”

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Rob Humby said: “We are very mindful of the extremely difficult situation so many Ukrainian families are facing as they flee from war in their country, and have been pleased to welcome individuals and families to our county as part of the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“This announcement forms part of the support we are extending to those arriving and is a practical and effective step to help our Ukrainian guests get around Hampshire during their stay. I would like to thank the bus operators for the constructive and productive discussions we have had – today’s announcement is tribute to the excellent partnership working we have enjoyed with the operators in Hampshire over many years.”

Full details of the scheme will be announced in the coming days.

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