Bethia, Community Volunteer
Why did you volunteer with the Ukrainian community?
I feel like the community found me! I really had no idea that I’d end up doing this. A friend of mine, Jonathan Henley had just married a Ukrainian lady, Alyona, about a month or so before the war began, and I remember that they were in the middle of doing the paperwork for her visa to come to the UK when the Russia invaded.
When Alyona, Kate and Mariia (Alyona’s daughter and granddaughter) arrived they were one of the first families to make it to Harborough and I met them all for the first time in one of Harborough’ s great Indian restaurants (their first time eating Indian food). I fell instantly in love with the whole family. A week later I met another Ukrainian lady, Oksana who had just arrived under the sponsor scheme and was living with a friend of mine, Maria, and her family. Oksana and I also became fast friends and I now count her as one of my best friends. Listening to their stories of what they had been through, I felt like if there was something I could do to help them, and their countrymen and women then I should do what I could, I didn’t know what that would be at the time, but I knew I wanted to do something.
I started attending the meetings at the Methodist Church and meeting more of the Ukrainian community. The more people I met, the more I saw the challenges that they were facing, both practically and emotionally. Living in a country and a house that is not your own, speaking in a language that is not your mother tongue, without the support system you have always known because you had no choice but to do it. If I put myself in their shoes, I could see how difficult that would be for anyone.
I joined the sponsors WhatsApp so I could communicate with the sponsors’, I went to numerous shops/organisations and asked them if they could help with donating clothes, toiletries, food, therapies etc. and compiled a list of those willing to help. I made a list of the Ukrainians I knew, and what qualifications and experience they had to help them find jobs or start their own businesses. My mother, Carrie Mitchell and a number of other therapists volunteered their time to host some wellness sessions to help people deal with the stress and trauma. Alison Rockett, a good friend and colleague of mine offered to help and her Community Interest Company, High Impact Education, they raised money through selling solidarity bracelets to buy children’s dual language books. She was also instrumental in helping Ukrainian mothers find and secure places in schools and nurseries, and even on holiday schemes for the children in the school holidays so the mothers could continue working. Together Alison and I secured funding from both the Harborough and Bowden’s Charity & Lions Club to start the UP Project (Ukrainian Participation Project) for which we run a crafting for wellness group for Ukrainian mothers and children to get together, have a meal, and take their minds off things for a little while.
I also ended up sponsoring too. In the end, I saw a need and I said to myself, ‘if not me, then who?’, and it went from there.
If you had one message to give to the Harborough community what would you say?
Thank you! I have lived in Harborough all my life but in the last few years I have seen and experienced the best of Harborough. On a personal level, I have been disabled for the last seven years and often needed to use a wheelchair and people in this town have been unfailingly kind, supportive and helpful. I’d also like to thank everyone who has helped to welcome the Ukrainian community into our town, your help and kindness does not go unnoticed. And lastly, I’d like to say thank you to the Ukrainian community for your trust, kindness, and friendship. Meeting such strong people and being part of your lives has been one of the great honours of my life.
Have you always lived in Harborough?
Born and bred! I moved away for a time to study as many young people do but returned to Harborough for good around seven years ago.
What’s your favourite thing about Harborough?
The community feel and beautiful countryside.
What’s your favourite place in Harborough?
The Ecovillage and the covered market, who could possibly pick one?
Do you think you’ll stay in Market Harborough?
Who knows? Never say never, but wherever I go, Harborough will always be my home town.
If you could share one memory about Harborough what would it be?
Singing in the Robert Smyth Academy soul band Soul Patrol as a teenager. I was lucky to receive a brilliant musical education.