On the 14th of March, the government announced the Homes For Ukraine scheme. Under the scheme, Ukrainian refugees with no familial ties to the UK can be hosted by willing sponsors, who’ll be compensated £350 per month.

The response from the people of the UK has been hugely positive. In the weeks since the announcement, over 150,000 families have offered up their homes to people fleeing the conflict, and some are a good way through the process already.

Though, whether it’s due to worries about inviting a stranger into their homes or concerns about whether the space they have to offer is enough, many people are still on the fence about taking part in the scheme.

With this in mind, we spoke to four Rest Less members who are opening their homes to refugees. All are at different stages in the process and have their own reasons for taking part. Each of them tells us about their journey so far, including their frustrations with the scheme and what they’re expecting from the experience.

“We were very sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainians and we wanted to do something”

When Kevin, a retired Welsh guardsman living in Portchester, Hampshire, first heard about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said he felt “astounded, astonished, and afraid”

“During my army service,” Kevin explains, “I spent a lot of time in Northwest Germany, in a place called Schleswig-Holstein, which is quite close to the Polish border. This was during the Cold War, and the threat of the USSR doing something was always there. So we were very sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainians and we wanted to do something to help.”

Along with thousands of other generous Britons, Kevin and his wife registered their interest on the gov.uk website. Although, like many, they were immediately disheartened with all the red tape that they found stood between them and welcoming someone into their home – particularly the fact that the scheme doesn’t match you with refugees.

Kevin says, “Yes, you can register your interest. Yes, you can have someone in your home. However, you have to invite that person yourself and then you have to go through a huge amount of bureaucracy before you can get them here. How do you invite someone if you don’t know who they are?”

“These people are running for their lives [...] but all these forms and all this bureaucracy is just making it really difficult for them”

Because the scheme doesn’t match sponsors with refugees, people have been turning to Facebook pages, charities, and other non-profit organisations like Reset that are dedicated to putting British people with homes in touch with Ukrainians who are looking for one.

Fifty-five-year-old Richard from Braintree is one of these people who’ve successfully found refugees to host online.

Richard says, “We originally started asking around if anyone knew of any refugees who needed a place to stay; my partner, Luiza, has friends in Poland. But they were quite slow to come back with people. So then we joined a handful of Facebook groups and responded to a few adverts. And through this, we started speaking to a Ukrainian woman and her nephew.”

But, unfortunately, even after you find someone, many are reporting that the process to apply for visas and get refugees over to the UK is overly complicated and frustrating. As of the 30th of March, more than two weeks since it was announced, the Home Office revealed that 28,300 Ukrainians have managed to apply for the scheme, but only 2,700 have been granted visas.

“I spent four hours on the phone with them filling out forms,” Richard tells us. “These people are running for their lives, literally. They used to live in Kharkiv. Their neighbour’s house was bombed and they saw people being killed, so they decided to run.

“They’re currently staying in a hostel in Warsaw and they’ve literally only got the clothes they’re stood up in, but all these forms and all this bureaucracy is just making it really difficult for them. We just want to help.”

“She stayed with me for two years and was like my daughter; part of my family”

Aside from avenues like charities and Facebook groups, some people – like 73-year-old William from Camden – are taking in people that they already know.

“About six or seven years ago, I met a young girl who worked at the local cafe. Later on, she came to clean for me, and then, after having some trouble with her landlord, I put her up in my spare room. She stayed with me for two years and was like my daughter – part of my family.

“Eventually, she had to go back to Ukraine where she met her husband, and they had a baby. Now, she and the baby are trying to get out.”

With two spare rooms in his house, William is welcoming these two in, as well as another young mother and child.

Though William already knows the people he’s inviting into his home, the majority of those signing up to take part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme will be welcoming strangers – which, for some, can be a worry.

However, as others will agree, it can also be a great opportunity to make connections with new people…

“It’s not about giving someone a room or a bed, it’s about giving someone a home”

“I don’t feel too nervous about welcoming strangers into my home,” says Linda from Cambridgeshire. “I’ve travelled and lived abroad quite a bit myself and, as a student, I shared flats with strangers. Yes, there are sometimes annoyances – sharing a kitchen and so on – but nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of good humour and a little give and take.”

This is a sentiment that’s shared by all the people featured in this article. Kevin, who’s welcomed many foreign exchange students into his home over the years, had this to say…

“Our past experiences have shown us that with a little bit of patience, love, and humour, all poured into the melting pot, the person coming into your home can be made to feel welcome. It’s not about just giving someone a room or a bed, it’s about giving someone a home.

“We’ve had exchange students that were ‘difficult’ in the past – and it’s true that it can be challenging. It’s not like having your brother or sister come to stay.

“First and foremost, you need to have an open mind. You have to be aware that the person coming into your home is going to be in an emotional state and have their own idiosyncrasies. You’ve got to be able to compromise.”

“When I’m helping people, I feel good about myself. I get more out of it than I put in”

For all the people that we spoke to, opening up their homes isn’t simply a selfless or altruistic act. Instead, each of them knows that they’ll get back even more than they put in. For Linda, the chance to meet and learn from new people is a big benefit…

“Sadly, I lost my husband 18 months ago, so I’m living here on my own. I’m not desperately looking for company or anything but I’ll be very happy to share my home with other people. I’m interested in meeting them.

“I do recognise that these people will be very traumatised, and I don’t expect it to be a barrel of fun and laughs. Although, I’m quite open-minded and know it’ll be something positive and interesting for me, as well as helpful for them.”

For others, like William, becoming a Homes For Ukraine sponsor is a chance to do something that makes them feel good about themselves. He says, “It’s only a little thing that I’m doing; it’s only a mild inconvenience for me to put them up. But when I’m helping people – doing charity work, etc – I feel good about myself. I get more out of it than I put in.”

Richard is even welcoming refugees in tribute to the memory of his late mother. “My mother, who lived with us in Braintree, unfortunately passed away just after Christmas. So now we have a granny-annexe, which is a converted double garage, that’s vacant – so we wanted it to do something good with it. We’re almost doing it in her memory, if we’re honest.”

Final thoughts…

With over 150,000 households registered to receive refugees through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the UK isn’t short on people wanting to help families displaced by the current conflict.

However, their frustration with the overly-complex and bureaucratic nature of the scheme is clear and it’s a sentiment shared by various charities, organisations, and politicians – many of whom are calling for the government to streamline the visa process and make it easier for people like Kevin, Richard, William, and Linda to give people the homes that they need.

Richard says, “It’s very frustrating when you want to do something for someone else but you’re being blocked by red tape. We just want to help.”

We hope that the government will begin taking steps to make the process easier soon. But in the meantime, it’s still well worth signing up to the scheme if you have the room to spare. The events that are unfolding in Eastern Europe are incredibly tragic and anything you can offer to help the people of Ukraine will go a long way.

To find out more about the Homes For Ukraine scheme and to register your interest, head on over to the government’s website. You can also find information in our article on the subject here.