Merton hosts began to welcome their first guests through the Homes for Ukraine scheme during this week, with more expected over Easter, as the borough continues to receive refugees coming to the UK via the Friends & Family programme.
Although there is a difference in national funding around both programmes, Merton Council is committed to extending the same warm welcome and support to all of our new residents, giving them equal access to services and continuing to lobby central government to provide the support they need.
The council is sympathetic to the frustrations around Government delays on visas, but is doing everything it can to ensure that processes locally are swift and supportive for arriving guests.
Anyone hosting a family under the Homes for Ukraine scheme can contact the Council for information on how to get their property inspected, requesting the interim welfare payment on behalf of arriving guests, or to ask any other questions by emailing email@example.com.
Where Homes for Ukraine guests have arrived, the council has been providing the £200 initial payments. The authority is also printing Welcome Packs to distribute after Easter containing local information that will be distributed to hosts and guests, as well as held at libraries and with partners such as Polish Family Association (PFA).
Council officers are already visiting hosts to help them get ready for new arrivals – and have visited all those currently doing so – to perform the simple property checks that are required. In addition, the council is organising a dedicated webinar for local hosts where they can ask any questions and raise any concerns or issues directly with us.
To register for this event, which will be held in partnership with representatives of local organisations working alongside the council, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local schools have already taken in students, and there will be a warm welcome for new pupils when they return to school after the Easter holidays next week. Anyone needing information on admissions to Merton schools should contact email@example.com.
Our Adult Education team is offering a range of courses to equip refugees with any skills or education they need – we will update you on this after Easter or you can check on the Adult Education website.
We are also working with Wimbledon Guild to set up a Facebook group for hosts so they have a forum where they can share their experiences and knowledge. Please register your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
For the latest updates, please continue to check our social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter), we will also be publishing stories in our news room and will continue to update the FAQs on our Homes for Ukraine webpage. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions that you have.
Our partners at the Commonside Trust and PFA have been arranging activities to help older guests settle in to the community: they have joined the weekly lunch club craft activities and engaged with Sustainable Merton to volunteer at Mitcham Community Orchard and on the PFA allotment.
A representative from the PFA travelled over last weekend to Poznan in Poland to see first hand the work of charities on the ground there supporting more than 200 refugee families, including 58 newborns, thanks to the incredible generosity of Merton residents.
A representative from the PFA travelled over last weekend to Poznan & western Poland to see first-hand the work of charities on the ground there supporting more than 200 refugee families thanks to the incredible generosity of Merton residents. He will also visit a PFA-supported centre in the Krakow area.
Food boxes were also handed out by the PFA during a weekly session as part of the Merton Community Fridge Project, coordinated by Sustainable Merton.
Volunteers from Wimbledon Guild and Age UK have continued to staff the Merton Hub phonelines, giving out advice to hosts and helping to field enquiries and direct residents to Council services. Any borough residents who want to help out can volunteer to help the refugee effort through either the Merton Community Hub or Merton Connected.
The Salvation Army and other faith groups have also continued to support efforts: Sacred Heart church in Edge Hill is looking at ways they can help efforts, while the pastor at Pollards Hill Baptist Church ran a free session with immigration lawyers on 3 April with the services of a volunteer interpreter.
The response from across the community to the plight of the Ukrainian refugees has been phenomenal and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all they are doing in this time of extraordinary circumstances to show just how much Merton cares for those in need.