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Stratford College welcomes Ukrainian refugees

STRATFORD College is helping Ukrainian refugees develop their English language skills to enable them to integrate in the community.

The town has welcomed a number of Ukrainian people who are here because of the ongoing war in their home country and many residents have offered their homes as a place to stay.

Now they have a base in the community, many refugees would like to integrate and work in Stratford but are finding the language barrier difficult to overcome.

Some of the Ukrainian students participating in lessons with teacher, Jenny Hughes, left, are pictured outside Stratford College. (58470814)
Some of the Ukrainian students participating in lessons with teacher, Jenny Hughes, left, are pictured outside Stratford College. (58470814)

Welcome Here: Stratford-upon-Avon is a group which has have been assisting Ukrainian refugees arriving and living in the area after their traumatic journeys to escape the conflict.

The group gather for meetings which has been a great help for everyone involved as these benefit everyone from a shared social and friendship experience.

There is a collection of clothes, toiletries, toys and books which are gratefully received by recipients and there’s information about food banks and applications also available.

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 people 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 in itself enough.

“It became apparent the online classes were not sufficient for people wanting to settle into employment and other areas quickly. After hearing about other courses at Stratford College I decided to enquire in more detail,” Maryna said.

Alex Blewer, programme manager for English and Maths, has been at the forefront of setting up the current programme at the college as he previously co-ordinated its ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses.

He explained why the college is keen to support the Ukrainian refugees with their learning needs.

“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. 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 while also providing a community hub which offers the chance to socialise,” Alex said.

One of the participants, Olena Pancheko, outlined the importance of taking part in the course.

“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 added: “We like learning about integration things like the 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 its early days with classes taking place once a week but the reaction has been very positive.

Maryna said: “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, said the learning experience was beneficial to all.

“The group told staff what they wanted which was learning about employability, the history of Stratford and basic English and grammar. We work on speaking, listening and are building the focus on writing and grammar with a range of levels to match the different level of each student.”

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

Maryna explained why it’s important for the Stratford community to engage with the refugees.

“I believe with such a large influx of refugees it’s vital each community does their bit to help. It’s obviously not an easy thing to move suddenly far away from home and familiar circumstances. Much support - both 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’s amazing to see the community has come together and help those fleeing it.”

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