Paul McPartlan, CEO for Places Leisure, welcomed a Ukrainian family into his home in April 2022. Here, he shares his experience and explains the positive impact on everyone involved.
Like many of us, Paul McPartlan and his wife were horrified by the situation in Ukraine and felt compelled to help. As soon as the Homes for Ukraine programme launched, they signed up to explore how they could make a difference. The programme, introduced by the UK Government, supports individuals who want to become a ‘sponsor’ and offer a home to people fleeing Ukraine.
Overcoming challenges and welcoming a Ukrainian family
“Joining the scheme proved to be quite a challenging exercise,” Paul said. “I’ve been married for 32 years, so I don’t know the intricacies of online dating, but that’s certainly what it felt like. Once we’d signed up, it was up to us to find someone to help.”
Paul was encouraged to join various online groups to start conversations with people seeking refuge. After a rocky start, a friend of a friend notified Paul and his wife of a Ukrainian family in need.
Originally from Kyiv, the mum and her two children, a boy aged 14 and a girl aged 11, had signed up to the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows applicants to join family members, or extend their stay, in the UK. However, their UK accommodation was going to be too small and they needed an alternative.
After navigating various bureaucracy challenges, Paul and his wife welcomed the Ukrainian family to their home on 14 April 2022.
Settling in with support from the community
“The first two weeks were really hard because the dad of the family is still in Kyiv,” Paul said. “One weekend, he travelled to Odesa to bring his elderly mother back to Kyiv. Odesa was being heavily shelled at the time and the family couldn’t contact him so there was a very anxious wait for news.
He continued: “Thankfully he was OK, but it was incredibly difficult for us to emotionally support them through that period. You can’t just say ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine’ as it’s not.”
Determined to help the family feel settled, safe and secure, Paul moved quickly to make their lives feel as normal as possible. Within a week, he had secured school places for both children. He also managed to get a second-hand piano for the 11-year-old girl, enabling her to continue lessons online with her Ukrainian teacher.
The local community has also rallied round to help. People have donated clothing, provided meals and offered financial support for trips and other items. Through a local charity, the children were also given bikes so they can cycle to school.
Mum, who speaks great English, is also working as a translator for a local charity helping other refugees.
Feeling like family
Now two months into the move, both families are continuing to enjoy getting to know each other.
“Mum cooks a lot which is great as we’ve experienced all sorts of Ukrainian cuisine,” Paul said. “On International Mother’s Day, we cooked them a roast dinner for the first time. To be honest, I don’t think they were the biggest fans of the British roast! But mum said it was the best Mother’s Day she’d ever had as she knows her children are safe. That was a very emotional moment that made us feel really blessed.”
The family’s long-term plans remain uncertain. Although they want to return to Ukraine, it will only be an option when they know the country is completely safe.
Paul explained: “For now, the priority is to keep them safe and do everything we can to make sure they keep thriving in the UK, for however long that may be.”
Advice for those considering Homes for Ukraine
Paul advised anyone thinking of joining the Homes for Ukraine scheme to think carefully about the impact and do their research.
“This is an incredibly rewarding scheme but there are lots of things to consider before signing up,” he said. “You need to have plenty of space in your home. Don’t underestimate the importance of providing privacy, including access to a bathroom that’s not shared with the rest of the family.”
He added: “The process of finding a family is hard work, but there is a lot of information available online that can help people navigate the process. There’s also a huge number of support groups offering advice. I’m happy to chat with any colleagues who are interested in taking part in the scheme.”
Paul’s positive experience has also helped to inspire others. Four families in his local village have also welcomed Ukrainian guests, helping to build a strong and successful support network.
“This has been a massive learning experience for all of us,” Paul said. “Although it’s a situation that will never feel completely normal, we’ve quickly adapted and have absolutely no regrets.
“One of the most significant changes is that we no longer use the word refugee. We refer to the Ukrainian people in our home as our family – as that’s exactly who they are now.”