Supporting Ukraine, Part 4: Churches rent flat to host refugee family

December 4, 2022

Over 20,000 refugees have come to Scotland from Ukraine since their country was invaded by Russia earlier this year.

The first part of this series highlighting how people from across the Scottish Episcopal Church have offered support to Ukrainians told how Father Gary Clink, Curate at St Mary’s in Arbroath, had opened his home to a family of three who had fled what is now Russian-occupied territory. A church-led community initiative in Stonehaven and an aid organisation in Edinburgh have also been featured.

Many other church members across the province are offering support to the Ukrainian community in a variety of ways, from hosting families to fundraising for emergency aid. It is not possible to feature them all, but each and every effort is to be applauded.

In the Diocese of Edinburgh, a couple of initiatives illustrate that there is more than one way to host a refugee family, if the circumstances are right.

In Midlothian, the congregations of the Episcopal churches in Lasswade and Dalkeith have agreed to support a family of four from Odessa by finding a local property that can be rented for six months. To date, the Ukrainian refugee family has been living with a congregation member until suitable independent accommodation could be secured, where they will continue to be supported.

“We wish we were further on with this because our application through the government scheme was made several months ago, but our family arrived at last after a period living in a hotel near Edinburgh Zoo,” says the Rev Peter Harris, Rector of the joint charges of St Leonard’s in Lasswade and St Mary’s in Dalkeith.

“There had been talk within the congregations about how we might be able to help Ukrainian refugees, and now both congregations are supporting this joint effort. People can donate financially each month if they are able, or give items for the flat, which means that they can help without having to host a family in their own home – although we do also have a member of one of the congregations who has taken in a family privately.

“We plan to rent a property for six months with a view to helping the family find their feet and settle into the community. The two children are already attending the local primary school in Dalkeith which is encouraging.

“Our family are now awaiting the keys of their flat and should be moving in in time for Christmas.  God answered prayers as it was becoming very difficult to find property to rent in Dalkeith and so we sent out a prayer request. The next day a new flat came on the market only a two-minute walk from where the children are at school and close to all the local amenities. Praise God.”

Meanwhile two priests elsewhere in the Diocese have opened the doors of a house they have bought for their retirement, to accommodate a Ukrainian family of five who had spent three months living in a hotel room in Italy.

The Rev Willie Shaw, Rector of St Mary’s in Grangemouth and St Catharine’s in Bo’ness, and the Rev Canon Sarah Shaw, Rector of Christ Church in Falkirk, wanted to help when they realised that their property in Angus presented an unexpected opportunity.

“When help was being sought for families coming to Scotland from Ukraine, it seemed that God was saying: maybe that’s you,” says Sarah.

“The family had left Ukraine and we wanted to help them so we filled in the necessary forms with them on Zoom. It was quite time-consuming but the visas came through very quickly, apart from one of the children. The local MP then helped us. Angus Council were also very helpful, and we even had a local charity call up to ask if we needed help.

“It was quite an intense time getting the house ready. All of the safety checks needed done, because the property has to be up to the standard required if you were renting it out privately.

“But it’s been really positive for us. We feel blessed that this family has come to us. It came down to whether we let this family stay in a single room in Italy, or let them live in our empty house. Why wouldn’t we do it?

“I’m a trustee of a charity that supports asylum seekers and refugees, and this is the first time I have been able to help someone directly.”

Husband Willie adds: “We are very aware of local asylum seekers in Grangemouth and Falkirk. There are people who have fled from places you have never heard of, and there is no scheme for them like the Ukrainian scheme. If we wanted to give a home to an Afghan or Eritean family, we can’t.

“The family we have are meeting other Ukrainians, and they are building more of a life than they have had recently, much more than they had in Italy. Not everyone can offer a home to a refugee family for many reasons, but we are glad we found ourselves in a position to be able to do this.”

[Main picture of St Mary’s in Dalkeith; by George BurgessCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Previous parts of the series:

Supporting Ukraine, Part 1: Offering a home to families

Supporting Ukraine, Part 2: Churches give community ‘their own space’

Supporting Ukraine, Part 3: Fundraising for humanitarian aid