Serving Refugees

April 2023
Paul Blakey

Kings Church Halifax have created a Warm Welcome space for their community as a response to the cost living crisis. Based in a deprived area, the church building is open every day of the week and the heating is always on. The team decided to join the campaign to make their space accessible to anyone in need of free physical and social warmth.

Initially the bulk of warm welcome service users were found at the church cafe, which offered pension specials, attracting 20-30 elderly people per meal. Sometimes users walked out with giveaways (e.g. low-energy light bulbs) to help raise awareness about solutions to cut down on energy use at home.  

With the changing landscape of government support, they noticed that the elderly weren’t the segment in most need, but families. 

Kings Church received a Warm Welcome micro-grant this winter. They used the money to listen to the needs in their community, forge new partnerships and deliver creative solutions. They spent the grant on family activities and were able to increase their offer to welcome single parents. 

They also used the funding to expand their base of beneficiaries. Given that their building was already serving Ukrainian refugees, they expanded their response by using Warm Welcome as a banner for their work in helping integrate refugee families into their community.

How It Happened: Helping Ukrainian Refugees

Paul Blakey, Operations & Development Manager, King's Church Halifax 

“King's Church in Halifax, West Yorkshire, contacted the Halifax Ukrainian group as soon as we heard about the situation in Ukraine, as a way of supporting our local Ukraine community. 

Initially the need was for additional collection points and storage for donated items that were to be sent to help with the situation in Ukraine. We made space in our Upper Hall and soon we had a constant stream of people from the local community coming in to drop off items which soon meant we ran out of storage space. 

Two or three times a week wagons and vans would turn up with an army of volunteers to clear out the items and set off on the long journey from Halifax to Ukraine. 
After a few weeks the needs changed as people from Ukraine started to arrive in Calderdale to be housed with host families. Ivan Kuzio, the coordinator of the Halifax Ukrainian group, asked if we could help with a meeting space where people could gather once a week for lunch. 

Very soon around fifty Ukrainians were meeting at the King's Centre with new friendships formed, counselling and support available and an opportunity to learn English. Host families were able to meet one another sharing needs and ways of supporting our new families. 
Practical help was offered with local dentists taking on Ukraine patients. Eureka!, the national children's museum based in Halifax, offered free family tickets and Calderdale Council came along to sort out issues and problems.

On the Orthodox Easter Sunday we hosted a Ukrainian breakfast with traditional food, which includes an abundance of horseradish, and an opportunity for King's Church to welcome our new friends. 
In the summer, we became a venue for distributing around one hundred bicycles, meaning getting around became easier for adults and children were then out and about enjoying the borough's parks. 
As the months progressed it was great to be part of the journey as Ukrainians started to receive job offers and English improved to a level of receiving ESOL qualifications.

Christmas saw us welcoming a newly formed choir with traditional Ukrainian carols and poetry. At a talent night, where the choir performed, Paul McMahon, one of the church leaders, said 'this community of people have truly won our hearts'. 

King's Church Halifax offers a Warm Welcome to many in our community including the Warm Welcome space we run each week; hosting events which reach out including International Women's Day celebrations and Social Workers thank you days; those who attend our pensioners special meals twice a week in the cafe; and those of all ages and nationalities who part of our church community. The strangers we welcome into our 'home' often become friends.”

Warmth, Safety and Community

Kings Church Halifax is an example of a Warm Welcome space that naturally grew their offering with the support of the Warm Welcome campaign. Yet according to the Warm Welcome campaign’s research and estimates, the campaign has led to 29% of spaces opening and 39% of spaces offering different services than they would have otherwise offered. Over half of space users would have been at home with the heating off if they had not been at the Warm Welcome space. The top three reasons people visit Warm Welcome spaces is because they are warm, safe and allow opportunities to meet new people. 

In a sample of 871 Warm Welcome spaces, 45 new social and recreational activities were started, 31 initiatives offering free food, 16 initiatives providing clothing and personal care, and 11 facilities providing support and services such as translation, financial advice and access to local council helpdesk.

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