Suffolk’s cathedral city has reached out to Ukrainians fleeing war to offer sanctuary, friendship and fun, as well as vital new skills training. Community Action Suffolk has recently supported Bury’s Bridge Community church to make a successful funding application of over £4,000 to the Church Urban Fund, immediately boosting activities such as employment and English language training, film nights and social support events.
Around 100 Ukrainians arrived in the Bury St Edmunds area in Spring 2022, most speaking no English, many traumatised and all having to come to terms with the stress and upset of being suddenly uprooted and displaced.
As elsewhere in the county, many people in Bury stepped forward with offers of accommodation through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Two initial networking events each attracted around 70 people and indicated that Bridge Community church was in a good position to offer activities that Ukrainian refugees would find helpful.
The group decided to set up weekly English language classes (pictured) run by skilled volunteer teachers and a popular free movie night (Paddington in Ukrainian!) with another group of volunteers for Ukrainian families. The group has linked up with a local international women’s group and overlaps with other church activities to help Ukrainians get to know and share experiences (and recipes!) with local people. CAS also worked with Suffolk Refugee Support to run a community meeting to gauge the community’s needs.
The funding has meant that the Bridge ‘Ukrainian Connect’ community, as it is now called, has been able to expand its offerings to include Employability sessions and a Housing session with the district council, as well as a Christmas Craft evening.
Ana Selby, coordinator of Ukrainian Connect said: “CAS gave us excellent advice regarding which grant to apply for so we could have a sustainable programme for the Ukrainian refugees. They were also very helpful in advising on how to complete key aspects of the application. Information about the activities of other groups and visits to the language class were also appreciated. We now have weekly contact with at least 15 Ukrainians and are able to pay our teachers for their dedicated work, while film nights attract 20 families. Some are finding work or moving on, while new refugees are still arriving and informal support like finding accommodation, is increasing as new friendships are made.”
“It’s been a bit ‘messy’ at times, but war is like that. We are now on a more stable footing, better able to plan and offer more to the Ukrainian community who have been through so much. CAS has really helped us move on to this next level.”
English Class at Ukrainian Connect, Bury St Edmunds, Dec 2022