Hear from Peter Holt, head of Uttlesford District Council, how the district is pulling together to cope with the humanitarian crisis stemming from the war in Ukraine:

“As you’ll see from the attached helpful slides from our partners at Essex County Council [see document attached to the bottom of this post], numbers arriving at the airport have grown to average around 200 per day most days in the last week, and some funding from Government has now been confirmed with it being assumed that the bulk of the grant will be used on staffing and facility costs and then closely by humanitarian assistance costs (food, clothing, emergency accommodation, onward travel, emergency cash etc.).

“There is now a Welcome Point in the arrivals hall that is clearly signposted for all Ukrainian arrivals and also host families to visit if they wish to. The Red Cross have reported they their volunteers are now speaking with over 200 people per day (that number varies – and not all of them have anything to do with the Ukraine scheme as some people just use it as an additional info point despite the signage).  I think this is a substantial step up from there being just one volunteer standing with a Ukrainian flag and a clipboard, though personally I am disappointed that the airport hasn’t been able to provide a proper lounge in the immediate arrival area where hosts and refugees could meet in private with some more dignity and frankly a warmer welcome.

“Any Ukrainian arriving that has more complex needs can be taken over to the Reception Centre in Enterprise House, some ten minutes walk away, which I am grateful to the airport for having provided.  This set up is currently working well and appears to be a proportional response for the 2% or fewer of arriving refugees who end up there, but we continue to monitor it.

“A challenge currently is to try and relieve the Red Cross, they are able to continue staffing it for the near future but not indefinitely. We are in talks with CVSU (Council for Voluntary Service Uttlesford) about using some of the funding to secure 3 coordinators each day and then they will manage a large roster of trained volunteers. This would tie in well as CVSU are currently providing a community responder that visits the hotel where Ukrainians have been placed that have no onward plans to provide them with additional support (including access to interpreters).

“There are currently 9 Ukrainians being supported including 5 children. 6 additional Ukrainians were in the hotel but have since moved on (either into ECC Social Care or to family/friends). We have weekly meetings with DLUHC to let them know the situation and to continue to put pressure on government to make their policies clearer around all aspects of the Homes for Ukraine scheme including asking other Local Authorities to take some of the additional burden that is being placed on the UDC Housing team.

Refugees settling in our area

“For people settling in Uttlesford under one of the two Government schemes, either with their own relatives or with volunteer host families, our Environmental Health team have started receiving a spreadsheet at the start of each week that contains the addresses of accommodation that they need to inspect.  Light-touch inspections have begun alongside some checks from ECC Social Care. The information on the spreadsheet is varied: some already have Ukrainian arrivals, but most do not.  It is a confusing picture with some people claiming that visas are not getting issued until the checks have been completed, and others claiming that the visas are issued first and then they are added to the spreadsheet for checks to be carried out. We are seeking clarification to make sure that everyone has the same information.

“We understand that local communities are keen to offer a warm welcome and practical support – and we are working out how best to channel this in the right direction, being careful to check with refugees and their hosts that they are first sufficiently settled and willing to be introduced to this wonderful level of support from our wider civic society.  Thanks to everyone for their patience as we work our way through this sometimes confusing picture, as well of course as considering the wishes of the individuals, many of whom have been through traumatic times to reach us, and who are worried about those they have had to leave behind.

“As ever, volunteers working alongside staff are doing essential work, and I am hugely grateful to both the Red Cross and CVSU volunteers.  Our UDC housing staff, our Environmental Health colleagues, and our shared emergency planner with the county are working really hard, as they have with previous refugee crises, and I am very grateful for their dedication and professionalism.

I hope you find this weekly update helpful – we’ll continue it for a short while until things settle down (though I’m away next week, so the next will be from Adrian Webb).”