Chichester volunteer is awarded British Empire Medal

A charity volunteer from Chichester has been awarded a British Empire Medal for ‘services to refugees’.

Ellen Thompson, who is a Sanctuary in Chichester volunteer, leads on most of the group’s work supporting children, according to the charity.

A Sanctuary in Chichester spokesperson said, “Within a couple of weeks of lockdown beginning, Ellen had set up a weekly children’s video call where children shared what they had been learning or creating that week and enjoyed competitions, games, craft activities and singing together.

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“This meant that children of all different ages could stay connected throughout lockdown and speak English together every week - vital for children who don’t speak English at home and would be very isolated otherwise.”

Ellen Thompson from Sanctuary in Chichester SUS-220201-114608001

The spokesperson said Ellen also provided homeschooling support and coordinated other volunteers to do the same so that every child could complete their schoolwork and continue learning throughout lockdown.

The spokesperson added, “[This is] another vital service because parents generally couldn’t yet speak enough English to be able to homeschool their children using online school resources.”

Ellen also encouraged those who wanted to improve their English to use an IXL app.

IXL donated a number of free licences to the charity and Ellen ensured they were all being used as much as possible, according to the spokesperson.

The spokesperson said, “Learners completed hundreds of hours of exercises and when everyone emerged after lockdown, many had actually become significantly better at speaking English, despite being stuck at home without interacting with other people for such a long time.”

Amani Tomeh, who has three children and joined in on every call, said, “She is a wonderful woman and she’s helped us a lot. She is always helping my daughter with reading, giving us advice and helping me with emails to the school.”

Tony Toynton, chair of trustees of Sanctuary in Chichester, said, “We at Sanctuary are delighted that Ellen’s work with us supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the Chichester area has been recognised by this award.

“Ellen has been volunteering with Sanctuary in Chichester since 2017, and her compassion, energy and dedication to helping make everyone be and feel safe in their new communities are all outstanding.

“When we were all locked down in March 2020, Ellen, along with a small number of other people at Sanctuary In Chichester, ensured that all of our support for refugees and asylum seekers could continue virtually and with huge success.

“It is fitting therefore that HM The Queen should choose to honour Ellen in this way.”

The charity spokesperson said Ellen was ‘bowled over’ to receive the award and said, “The great teamwork of fellow volunteers meant that, almost overnight, we moved online. Without this enthusiasm and encouragement it wouldn’t have happened.

“What a team – quite unique in my experience.”