HOSTS and refugees from across the Winchester district flocked to the Guildhall for the first meeting of the city council's new Ukrainian support hub.

The event, which was held in the Courtyard Room on Tuesday, saw scores of guests and their host families take advantage of a range of services, advice, and guidance on housing, job opportunities, benefits and general support.

Alongside council officers, representatives from Citizens Advice Winchester District, Winchester Basics Bank and Winchester City of Sanctuary - which played a huge part in the hub's development - were in attendance.

Host Yvette Riley travelled from the Itchen Valley to attend the the inaugural meeting with Mariya, a refugee who arrived in the UK with her daughter Ryta just under three weeks ago. She said: "That's one of the things about being a host, you know there are lots of services available but the difficulty is finding out how to access them. So, days like today are a great help. Mariya has had the chance to speak with the library, which will be an amazing tool for her daughter Ryta to use in the coming weeks. It's also a fantastic opportunity to meet with representatives from the council's housing department and talk about what's next. As a host you make a commitment for six months and of course we're happy to have them way beyond that, but if they would like to look at getting their own home at some point, then great. They're proud people who don't want to take handouts from anyone, and discovering all these services goes a long way in helping them maintain their independence and settle in."

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As part of a new service offered by the authority, Ukrainians and their hosts will be able to drop into the support hub to access help and meet in a safe environment every Tuesday throughout the month of June. The hub will be open from from 10am-2pm and translation services are available.

Councillor John Tippett-Cooper, designated city of sanctuary champion, said: “Over the last two months, the city council has been working closely with key organisations like Winchester City of Sanctuary, Churches Together and the University of Winchester to support the growing community of Ukrainian families and their hosts across the district. Thanks to support from these organisations and many volunteers in the community, many Ukrainians arriving are settling in after often deeply traumatic experiences.

"A need had been identified for a 'one stop' hub of different key support services for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Winchester District under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and Ukraine Family Scheme. It’s really positive that the city council now has this hub up and running.

"We really want the hub to be somewhere for hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme to access too. Winchester district’s hosts cannot be praised enough, opening their homes to support people fleeing war is a truly kind and decent thing to do - the city council wants to do everything possible to support them. We had a real steady stream of people from when we opened at 10am, I think that really reinforces the need for this service."

Beth Flint, founder and chair of Winchester City of Sanctuary, a community group which started in 2020, said: "We've been hoping for a service like this and it's lovely to see it here. It's key people have that clear access to service provision locally which they know they can come back to for future support. It has been great working with the council to help them shape this. Our long term hope is that we can become a space of sanctuary so to speak, rather than working more independently. We bring with us knowledge and expertise of working specifically with the needs, risks and vulnerabilities of refugees and asylum seekers, so what we can do is help other organisations that have pre-existing services to slightly tweak those services and make them more bespoke."

Speaking on whether the hub might be extended beyond June, Ms Flint said: "In time we'll look at whether we have a more permanent hub and space. We''l have to wait and see how long-term that need is, but we're very much working with the council on that and I can imagine it will be reviewed continually."

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