The Wells-based charity Children of Chernobyl has been dissolved after 32 years in operation. Here, one of the charity’s trustees, Jo Brown, looks back at its work.
THE ‘Children of Chernobyl, Wells Area’ charity had an unusual beginning through a chance meeting in 1990 between Wells residents David and Heather Lancashire and a Belarusian journalist. He was in the UK looking to find communities to provide respite care for children from southern Belarus who had been affected by the explosion in Chernobyl four years earlier. He found a good place in Wells.
For the first visit in 1991, 30 Belarusian teenagers came to the Wells area for a month. It was a success. The main structure of the subsequent visits by Belarusian children over the years was laid in 1991. Practical support from our two main secondary schools in Wells, the Blue School and the Cathedral School, has been important to the success of the visits. Support from the people of Wells was overwhelmingly generous from the start; without this continued wealth of commitment the project to mitigate disaster in the lives of children from Belarus would not have been possible.
The charity continued for the next 32 years with most of the years seeing groups of Belarusian children, hosted by local families, enjoying a recuperative holiday.At a rough calculation there have been more than 400 children who have visited and enjoyed Wells and the area over the years since the first visit in 1991. Many enduring friendships have grown between host families and their guests. The immune systems and general health of children who lived through the aftermath of Chernobyl 1986 have been measurably strengthened.
The children received important dental care from Richard Leworthy and his staff at Rock House Dentistry; there was a shortage of dentists in Belarus and the damaging effect of radiation on the teeth of the children had been considerable.
There have been return visits by Wellensians to the Yelsk area of southern Belarus, making the exchange of friendship richer over the years. We are sad that this has had to stop. On the evening of June 9 the current trustees, chaired by Yulia Allen, took the reluctant and emotional decision to dissolve the charity.
The pandemic of 2020 and the current turmoil in Ukraine has made operating impossible for the foreseeable future. The trustees have sourced a Leeds-based charity that is still able to work in Belarus for the benefit of children in need for various reasons. The trustees and membership of ‘Children of Chernobyl, Wells Area’ feel confident that the remaining funds so generously raised by the people of Wells will be put to good use for the benefit of Belarusian children (www.chernobyl-children.org.uk).
One of our city treasures is a medal given to Wells by one of the Belarusian ‘liquidators’ of the site of the Chernobyl disaster, Vitalie. In his letter, he explained that he wanted the City of Wells to be given his medal because he considered that we had been ‘liquidators’ too by caring for the health of the children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. This medal is kept in the City Archive.
The trustees paid a moving tribute to John Price at their final meeting on June 9. John had been Chair for over ten years and had been the ‘beating heart’ of the charity. He was a generous, funny, kind man who loved the children of Belarus, some of whom he and his wife Rosie hosted for several years as well as helping to run the project. John died peacefully on April 19 surrounded by his family. We will always miss him.
I am very interested to gather and record the stories of ‘Children of Chernobyl, Wells Area’ from all who have played any part in this local project. Please respond if you can, to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a unique Wells story that is worth telling and recording. There have been so many wonderful memories over the years. The trustees already have a rich archive which they intend to place with the Wells City Archive alongside the historic Chernobyl Liquidator’s medal.