Cathedral vigil marks year of war

WELLS Cathedral was packed for a vigil on Sunday, February 26, to mark one year of war in Ukraine, and remember the many lives changed and lost in the conflict.

As part of the vigil, Wells Cathedral Choir gave a performance of the Duruflé Requiem, composed by Maurice Duruflé during the Second World War, with a retiring collection in aid of Somerset Supports Ukraine and the Cathedral.

The Cathedral’s St Callixtus Chapel was open after the vigil for people to light candles and write messages and the names of loved ones in a special book.

Ukrainian families and their hosts in Somerset joined people across the UK to observe the anniversary of the conflict in Ukraine at 11am on Friday, February 24, and the Ukrainian flag was raised at public buildings, including Wells Town Hall and the Mendip District Council offices in Shepton Mallet.

The Wells Refugee Welcome Hub at the Portway Annexe continues to support refugees from Ukraine living in Wells, Glastonbury, Street, Shepton Mallet and the surrounding villages. The families are mostly women and children, and include a doctor, an ophthalmologist, dentists, pharmacists, entrepreneurs, teachers, IT specialists, online business owners, shop workers, builders and engineers.

The Wells Welcome Hub has been set up by WCN in partnership with Wells City Council, CHARIS, Welcome Hubs and Somerset County Council. It is managed by a Ukrainian, Anna Tumanova, who was appointed after the role was advertised locally, and supported by a team of volunteers.

Many of the children take part in online lessons from their Ukrainian schools, before or after their lessons in local schools. Learning English has been a priority for everyone, and a group of volunteers including retired language teachers from local schools and colleges have come forward to teach the refugees English. 

Hub Manager Anna said: “We are all so grateful to local people for offering help and support to Ukrainian families in so many different ways. It has really helped us feel part of the community.”

Some Ukrainian families are now reaching the date by which they have to move out of their initial sponsor’s home but have not yet found another sponsor or a place of their own to rent.

The county council’s Homes for Ukraine team and Mendip’s Refugee Housing Officer are working hard to find accommodation, as are the families themselves. However, this is proving difficult.

People who can help – perhaps having registered to sponsor but never having been matched with a refugee family, or with knowledge of someone who registered and has not found a Ukrainian family to host – can email to be put in touch with the Homes for Ukraine team. 

Anyone who knows or hears of someone who has accommodation that they would not advertise publicly but might be willing to rent to a refugee family can also get in touch via the same email address.

Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, 745 people in Somerset have registered as hosts, and the county has welcomed 1,417 Ukrainian guests, with 253 guests from the Somerset scheme now moving on to live in their own homes in the UK.

Councillor Bill Revans, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “I’m hugely proud of the way this county has stepped up to support the people of Ukraine, as we have done with other resettlement schemes in the past.”

On the first anniversary of the war, volunteers from Wells Rotary pledged their ongoing commitment to support those affected by the war. Over the past 12 months, members from Wells and Rotary District 1200 have played their part in responding to the humanitarian crisis by raising funds for medical aid, supporting individual refugees to give them opportunities for employment, supporting language training, and many other avenues of support here and on the ground in Ukraine.

These activities have been part of Rotary’s efforts across Great Britain and Ireland, which has seen the organisation’s members give in excess of 100,000 volunteer hours and raise more than £6 million of donations in cash and kind.

Wells Rotary President Alan Webb said: “So many millions have suffered over the past 12 months, and we are proud to have played a small part in helping those people and contributing to Rotary’s overall response to the war.

“The amount of money Rotary has raised and time our volunteers have given across the country show the power of collective action and the incredible impact which can come from working together.

“Peace is the cornerstone of Rotary’s global mission, and while war rages on, we continue to be committed to providing help and support wherever we can.

“We want to thank the community of Wells for all their generous support for our activities.”