Ukraine hub’s heartfelt thanks to ‘legend’ Paul

By Jake Chown  
Thursday 23rd June 2022 11:00 am
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Local businessman Paul Willetts, of Willetts Coaches, stepped in to drive dozens of Ukrainian refugees to the seaside last weekend

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MEMBERS of a support hub for Ukrainian refugees living in the Forest have praised the generosity of a well-known local coach operator who kindly stepped in to take the families and their hosts on a day trip to the beach on Sunday (June 19).

Paul Willetts, who owns Coalway-based firm Willetts Coaches, donated a luxury coach, the fuel and his free time on Father’s Day to drive 53 Ukrainian family members for a relaxing day of fun in the sun in Ogmore-by-Sea.

The families, who have been forced to flee their homes following Russia’s invasion of the country back in February, are being supported by the Forest’s Ukraine Community Hub, which was setup in May to allow the refugees to “meet, eat, chat and play” with fellow Ukrainians facing similar situations.

The hub meet weekly at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms, with local volunteers helping to organise social events, English classes, legal advice and more for the refugees.

Organiser Karen Cockfield says the group is allowing the families to form relationships and support each other through their trauma and hardships, along with the isolation that comes with living in a rural part of a foreign country.

After several meet-ups, some of which have drawn more than 100 people, the volunteers came up with the idea of organising day trips for the members.

Karen set about finding a bus for the first outing, which proved a challenge at first, but Paul came through for the group - telling Karen his wife would never forgive him if he said no - and even agreed to drive the coach himself.

Their destination was weather dependent, with a trip to the zoo planned as a back up if it was raining.

But on Sunday morning, a “frantic messaging frenzy” ensued so that the children’s swimming costumes and towels could be packed, as the sun was thankfully shining.

There was much excitement among the group, with many of the children having never seen the sea before.

Karen said that one little girl, Camilla, even screamed as Paul pulled up in his coach to collect them.

A “huge” picnic was put together by an “ever modest, capable and dependable” group of volunteers, Norma Hellier, Felicity Edwards, Karen Jones, her lovely mum and Bob, to take on the day trip.

Karen said a “relaxed and happy day” was had by all, with the children going for a swim and the families enjoy the picnic and a chilled beer in the sunshine.

She added: “Paul was a legend! He donated the luxury coach, the petrol and his personal time, and all on Fathers’ Day, to make this day trip possible. A very generous gesture indeed!

“Just incredible goodwill and kindness. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Paul from me and a coach full of very happy families.”

The group, which is led by Karen and fellow organiser John Thorncroft, are now looking for more local people to get involved, whether that be as a volunteer or by making a donation to fund future activities and catering.

Karen says they have had some “amazing” contributions so far, but the community needs support to sustain the project going forward.

The group’s Go Fund Me page can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/ukraine-community-hub, and more information is available on their Facebook page.

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