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'My son held hands with a Ukrainian girl as we helped her get to her first day at school'

‘My son helped Ukrainian girl get to her first school day'

17 May 2022
[ Zoom ]
Lisa Merry and Chris Wright, members of our Ukraine support team, smile to the camera

Almost 200 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Wokingham Borough during the last six weeks, with hundreds more expected in the coming months.


We’ve created a team of case workers who help host families and their Ukrainian guests to ensure a smooth arrival in the most difficult of circumstances.


Let’s meet Chris Wright and Lisa Merry, two of our case workers welcoming families into the borough…


“The guests are always so grateful for everything that’s being done,” Lisa says. “Particularly the children, they don’t ask for anything, but whatever we offer or give to them they are so grateful for it. It’s the small things.”


Help and support is wide ranging. We check host properties to ensure they are safe and help manage expectations with non-English speaking guests living with them.


Once refugees arrive we can help with English lessons, applying for school places, completing visa applications, assisting with visits, applying for universal credit, accessing free gym and bus passes, getting hold of free SIM cards, getting them help from our extremely supportive charity partners and much, much more.


Helping with the unfamiliar


But sometimes it’s just being there when they need you. Being there to help with something unfamiliar.


“One of my guest’s children was starting at school and they had to catch a public bus,” Chris says.


“While not a normal part of my role, I did offer to travel on the bus with the family to give them additional support as I haven’t been on a bus in years and I knew my young son would enjoy the trip.


“We met them at 7am and walked to the stop together. I took my son and he was super excited because it’s the first time we’d been on one and he couldn’t wait to do it.


“He and the Ukrainian girl starting school held hands the whole way and we dropped them off at the gates. It meant they didn’t have to do the journey on their own.”


'I wanted to help the community'


Lisa and Chris have worked at the council for more than a year, both initially as part of the Covid-19 lateral flow testing response team.


There were only a few days left on their contracts in late March when they were asked if they’d be interested in staying on to support Ukrainian refugees.


Lisa had been due to start a new role at British Airways in a few weeks but couldn’t resist the urge to stick around and help, which is what made her want to join the council and help with the Covid-19 response originally.


“I applied here originally as I just wanted to get involved and help the community and be part of the response to Covid,” she says. “I had a job lined up with British Airways but I’ve pushed it back to help with Ukraine. If I didn’t end up doing this I would have volunteered to help in another way. 


“We’ve learnt so much from our housing and social care teams since we started doing this. We’re going to be there helping those who have arrived for the next six months, like we said before sometimes its just the small things.”


“One guest called me her family’s guardian angel,” Chris added. “Which is not quite the case but we have helped them with a range of things and it’s nice for them to say that. 


“We might not consider that what we’re doing are big things necessarily, but to most coming here with a language barrier it’s really daunting and they are so appreciative of the help and support we are giving.”


Donate to Chance to Thrive


Lisa and Chris will be directly involved in implementing the council’s Chance to Thrive scheme, which is aiming to fundraise £25,000 from the community to support more than 125 children expected into the borough.


It will pay for computers and smartphones, which are essential for schooling. There will also be funding for sports, drama, music and other classes for youngsters. 


Go to the Chance to Thrive donation page to find out more and donate.


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