On 21st January 2023, the SJOG team, together with CSAN, held their first information session of the year at Middlesbrough Central Library.
With the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaching, the team presented their Ukraine Matching Service and discussed the importance of hosting. With support from the Diocese of Middlesbrough and Margaret Clark, President of the National Board of Catholic Women, there was a grand turnout, with people attending from across the region.
In attendance were individuals who had initially signed up to the government scheme last year, but had not since had any contact from the Home Office, nor received any signposting support. John Flett was one such individual who initially registered with the government scheme but received no response. Compelled to act, he found a matching service and was able to successfully sponsor 2 Ukrainian individuals. John spoke about the process of hosting and discussed the challenges he faced. He spoke about his first meeting with his Ukrainian guests and how he, along with his guests, has benefited from hosting, including getting to know his community in a new way.
In attendance were also many Ukrainians who came to the UK as guests. They spoke to the group about their experiences, where to access support and of the numerous activities and events hosted for the Ukrainian community. They also highlighted the need for re-matching, which the SJOG scheme also offers.
The SJOG team have conducted in-person information sessions in Liverpool, Bristol and Middlesbrough, and you may have also heard them on the radio with Radio Maria or seen them on the evening news with ITV Tyne Tees. At each event, we have heard from existing sponsors of their experience with the scheme and how it has enriched their communities in return – for some testimonies from guests and sponsors, please see the CSAN webpage: https://www.csan.org.uk/story/testimonies/.
SJOG has thus far helped to create 25 matches, supporting 54 Ukrainian guests – 29 of whom have received their visas and arrived in the UK. SJOG have facilitated matches across the UK, with guests settling in Liverpool, Cumbria, Staffordshire, and Norfolk, amongst others, including one family matched and settled in Northern Ireland. We have seen successful matches providing much needed refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the ongoing war, especially amid a brutal winter following consistent Russian attacks on energy infrastructure which have deprived Ukrainians of access to heat and electricity.
As we approach the first anniversary of the war on 24th February, the need for hosts remains high. We encourage all to promote the SJOG matching service amongst your networks, share with your parishes and communities, and if you can offer a room, sign up to be a host: https://sjog-homesforukraine.uk/.