'Incredible' welcome for Ukrainian refugees at new aid centre

Leanne Jarman, second left, Morrisons community champion, and Ian Odgers, right, organisers, celebr

Leanne Jarman, second left, Morrisons community champion, and Ian Odgers, right, organisers, celebrate the opening of the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre with some of Dereham's Ukranians. - Credit: Denise Bradley

They have come from a country ravaged by war, but a group of Ukrainians couldn't keep the smiles off their faces at a special event in Dereham. 

For they were the guests of honour at the opening of the Dereham Ukraine Aid Centre, in Wright's Walk, which has been set up to provide support and friendship to refugees who have fled their homeland. 

Ian Odgers and Leanne Jarman, Morrisons community champion, organisers at the new Dereham Ukraine ai

Ian Odgers and Leanne Jarman, Morrisons community champion, organisers at the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre in Wright's Walk. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Leanne Jarman is one of about 10 volunteers at the new centre. 

She said more than 20 Ukrainians now living in Dereham and surrounds were part of the celebration.

Mrs Jarman said she was delighted with how well the opening went.

Leanne Jarman, front second left, Morrisons community champion, and Ian Odgers, organisers, at the

Leanne Jarman, front second left, Morrisons community champion, and Ian Odgers, organisers, at the opening of the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre with their volunteers. - Credit: Denise Bradley

She said: "It was incredible. I had this vision of how it was going to be and it was a million times better.

"We had such a good turnout, with a lot of Ukrainian families coming along.

"There were families, single women, pregnant women - really quite a range of people."

Anne Short, left, head of english for speakers of other languages (ESOL), and Heidi Procter, manager

Anne Short, left, head of english for speakers of other languages (ESOL), and Heidi Procter, manager of the Bury St Edmunds learning centre, at the opening of the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre. - Credit: Denise Bradley

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Allison Webb, executive member for housing, health and communities on Breckland Council, was there to welcome the new arrivals, along with the town's deputy mayor, Hugh King.

A group of Ukrainian girls cut a ribbon to officially declare the centre open. 

Inside the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre, with donated food, clothes and homeware giveaways, cafe,

Inside the new Dereham Ukraine aid centre, with donated food, clothes and homeware giveaways, cafe, and community areas, for the refugees. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Ukrainians visiting the centre are able to pick up donated clothing and food, and there is also a corner where children can socialise and play with toys. 

Mrs Jarman said she was thrilled with how well the project had gone, given the initial idea was simply to offer a temporary stand to welcome the refugees.  

She said: "It was going to be just a pop-up shop but it has turned into a community hub."

Members of the Dereham Kindness Club, who decorated the windows of the Ukraine Aid Centre and made

Members of the Dereham Kindness Club, who decorated the windows of the Ukraine Aid Centre and made pencil cases for Ukrainian children about to start school. - Credit: Supplied

Government figures show 679 visas have been issued to Ukrainians heading to Norfolk through the Homes For Ukraine scheme, however not all of those have yet arrived in the country.

Through the government scheme, which opened on March 18, people were invited to sponsor Ukrainian refugees - providing them room in their homes for six months.

The centre is located in Dereham's former M&Co branch and will be open Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 4pm.