College welcomes Ukrainian refugees

3rd August 2022

Stratford-upon-Avon College is breaking down barriers as they welcome Ukrainian refugees to the area and support them in integrating into the local community.

The town has welcomed a number of Ukrainian refugees due to the continuing war in their home country and many Stratford residents have offered up their homes as a place to stay.

Students outside college
The students outside the college before their lesson with teacher, Jenny Hughes (left of the image)

Now they have a base in the community, many refugees would like to begin integrating and working, however are finding the language barrier tough to overcome.

Welcome Here: Stratford-upon-Avon have been assisting Ukrainian refugees arriving and living in the area after very traumatic travels. The group gather for meetings which have been a great help for everyone involved; with benefits being socialising and friendships forming. The group collect clothes, toiletries, toys and books etc which are always gratefully received by recipients and are also in touch with the food banks and help with applications there.

Maryna Windsor works with Welcome Here and has been helping refugees with visa applications, travel issues and provides continued support after their arrival. As a multi linguist speaking English, Russian and Ukrainian, she felt helping was the natural thing to do.

Maryna found that many of the refugees struggled speaking English and contacted the College when she realised the language help offered online wasn’t enough: “It soon became apparent that the online classes available were not sufficient for people wanting to settle into employment and other areas quickly. After hearing about other courses at Stratford-upon-Avon College, I decided to enquire.”

Alex Blewer, Programme Manager for English and Maths, has been at the forefront of setting up the current programme at the College as he has previously co-ordinated the College’s ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses. He details why the College are keen to support the learning of the Ukrainian refugees: “There are a lot of people coming over who have left good jobs and due to the English language barrier they are either not working here or are working in jobs not utilising their specialist skills.”

He continues: “The College wants to support the improvement of their English in speaking and listening and reading and writing. We are currently offering a short programme which focuses on developing their learning following a teaching plan whilst also providing a community hub allowing a chance to socialise.”

One of the participants, Olena Pancheko, details why she is taking part: “I am trying to settle in Britain, to live here, so I needed to have some integration. We need to learn English so we have better work opportunities than we currently have and learning the language better will help with this.”

She continues to describe what she enjoys most: “We like learning about integration things like job centre, health system and how to apply for documents for work. It has been very useful to learn grammar and spelling. It has been really nice for us.”

The programme is in the early days of running, with classes taking place once a week but the reaction has been very positive. Maryna comments: “Everybody seems to be enjoying it and is keen to learn. The class is full and the teacher (Jenny Hughes) is absolutely wonderful and really puts so much effort into the lessons.”

Jenny Hughes, who is leading the sessions has described how they structure the work: “The group told staff what they wanted: learning about employability, the history of Stratford and basic English and grammar. We work on speaking, listening and are building to focus on writing and grammar with a range of levels to match the different level of student.”

The students enjoy the lessons which are engaging and interactive

Due to its current success, there is actually a waiting list for the programme. Alex is currently planning for a second programme in the Autumn and this one would be fully accredited so participants would leave with a qualification.

Maryna comments on why it important for the Stratford-upon-Avon community to engage with the refugees: “I believe that with such a large influx of refugees, it’s vital each community does their bit to help. It is obviously not an easy thing to move suddenly far away from home and familiar circumstances and much support, physically and psychologically is required especially in the first few weeks. However Ukrainians are not great receivers of ‘charity’ and will soon become self-sufficient and gain their own independence. Many I’m sure will want to go back and rebuild Ukraine after the war. But in the meantime, it is amazing to see the community come together and help those fleeing war.”