Sasha speaks with Michael Gove
A Ukraine support worker and host for Wokingham Borough Council was privileged last month to be invited by the Prime Minister to Number 10 Downing Street for a celebration and thank you event.
The reception was hosted by The Rt Hn Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to celebrate the Orthodox New Year with Ukrainians who have been welcomed to the UK and host families who have supported the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Stuart Holden started as a host for Ukrainian guests when the war first broke out. When the opportunity to join the council as a support worker came up, wanting to give back to those that need it, he successfully applied for the job.
He has a long history with Ukraine, doing charity work in the country for over 15 years. When the war broke out, he went to Sweden to help refugees get to a charity base in Poland and went on to sponsor a woman he had known since she was a child, living in an orphanage, to live with him and his wife Joanne. Since then, he has sponsored two other Ukrainians, including Sasha who attended the reception with him.
A grand day out
Stuart said of his day at Number 10: “I went with my wife Joanne and guests Sasha and Lyudmila. Lyudmila has only been in the country for a few days, so we used the opportunity for some sightseeing before going to Downing Street.
“When we arrived at the gates of Downing Street there was already a queue waiting to enter and go through security, but it wasn’t long before we were entering through the famous door to Number 10.
“Once inside we were taken up the staircase with all the photos of previous prime ministers to the function room. We were introduced to Michael Gove, the secretary of State for Levelling Up who spent some time talking with us.
“He was interested in how the hosting system was working and especially wanted to know what could be improved.
“There was a violinist playing Ukrainian music and about 170 hosts and guests including children. We were then treated to a children’s choir from a Ukrainian primary school singing Ukrainian songs and then a short speech from Michael Gove welcoming the Ukrainian guests, thanking the hosts, and reaffirming the UK Government’s commitment to supporting Ukraine.
“My Ukrainian guests were a bit overawed by the occasion and very proud to have been invited to such an event in this famous building. Sasha said it was a very special moment in his life and he will always remember how the UK supported Ukraine and was so welcoming to Ukrainian refugees.”
This comes after a New Year announcement that the UK Government was to extend the scheme, offering payments for 24 months rather than the original 12 months, as well as increasing the monthly payments for guests who have been in the country over 12 months.
Nearly 500 Ukrainian guests since war broke out
Cllr Rachel Bishop-Firth, executive member for equalities, inclusion and fighting poverty, said: “We have welcomed nearly 500 Ukrainian guests into the borough since war broke out.
“To be invited by the Prime Minister to Number 10 is a huge honour, and we are glad that Stuart could represent our hosts and our Ukraine support team and the amazing work they do.”
Cllr Clive Jones, leader of the council, added: “We have seen a huge amount of support and compassion from members of the public, like Stuart, who have opened up their hearts and homes, as well as voluntary services who have rallied round to make sure that guests have toys, clothes, furniture, equipment and a place to go if they need help and support.”
The council still needs hosts for those arriving from Ukraine or hoping to leave Ukraine. If you would like to know more about hosting a family, visit our Ukraine hub.
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