Chichester residents celebrate Ukrainian Mother’s Day with West Wittering picnic for refugee families

The community rallied together to give refugee families a warm welcome on the Ukrainian date for Mother’s Day on Sunday (May 8) with a beach picnic.

Wishing to show support to refugees but currently unable to host a family herself, Jenny Gray came up with the idea to honour families who have fled the war by celebrating the Ukrainian Mother’s Day.

Now that many refugees have arrived and settled in Chichester and surrounding areas, Jenny thought they needed a chance to get together, and decided on a picnic on West Wittering beach as the perfect opportunity for this.

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Originally expecting ‘about 25 people’ to attend, Jenny advertised the event in a Whatsapp group she was part of.

Guests at the Ukrainian Mother's Day beach picnic.

She said: “The next thing I knew my phone was pinging — around the table actually — as people got on board and wanted to come.”

The event was attended by 160 people, made up of Ukrainian families and those wishing to show them a warm welcome.

The beach was adorned with flags, bunting and tablecloths, as well as blue and yellow flower arrangements positioned on each table.

Keen to show their support, many members of the community rallied together to help.

West Wittering beach offered free passes for all host families and their guests; East Wittering card shop Greetings House donated and delivered 20 helium-filled blue and yellow balloons, and Ukrainian people who live in the area permanently made traditional cakes for the guests.

Harbour Churches, which Jenny is a part of, also supported the event, with the vicar Jonathan Swindells and his wife Jane cancelling a prior engagement so that they could attend the picnic instead.

The day passed 'in a blur' and was filled with 'lots of tears and lots of laughter'.

Jenny said: "It was a real time to just all come together and realise that we’re all in it together supporting them."

Speaking about the importance of giving refugees such a warm welcome, she added: "It’s really important to reach out and not just sit in our comfy homes and just watch it all happen and not want to help.

"There were some little grandmothers there. I mean, their eyes were empty, they were just sitting there watching their daughter and their grandchildren, but they’ve lost everything."

Those involved in organising the picnic are continuing to do work in the community to support refugee families and hosts. This has included setting up storage to collect supplies - such as clothes and bedding - while four teachers who met at the picnic are currently in talks to arrange face-to-face English lessons for refugees.

Jenny added: "It could be us. What’s happening to them could’ve happened to us, and it’s just being able to show the support that I have no doubt other countries would have shown us."

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