The one-woman driving force behind the Badminton Homes for Ukraine initiative has described how the sport is playing an integral role in helping youngsters from the war-torn nation adapt to life in the UK.
Helen Thornton sprung into action when conflict began in February, contacting representatives at the Ukrainian Badminton Federation as well as Badminton England with the aim of partnering badminton-playing families with host families who could provide refuge.
Thornton’s home county of Suffolk is one of five to have become part of the initiative, alongside Kent, Somerset, Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire, with 15 families now safely rehoused and more to follow.
“I wanted to reach out and get badminton families over here, the main reason being primarily focused on children,” Thornton said.
“This was so that regardless of what they’ve been through – and some of them have been through horrific things – once they get here, they can pick up with something that would give them some sense of normality.
“We thought it would do them so much good from a mental and physical perspective and within a couple of days, there were 10 families willing to host.
“They were not badminton families initially, just very kind people who are giving them a home and giving the kids some sense of normality through playing badminton a few times a week.
“Badminton is absolutely a key thing for them. It’s the thing that’s driving them, without any shadow of a doubt.”
Ukrainian children Oleg, Nastya, Masha and Ilya with coach Ben
Among the children settling into Suffolk is 11-year-old Oleg, whose family found themselves on the border of hostilities when war broke out.
Since arriving in East Anglia, Oleg and his family have been supported in getting on court while he was also invited to have a tour of Portman Road, home of Ipswich Town FC, and watch a match.
“The mothers are so grateful and so proud,” Thornton added. “They feel guilty for taking up our homes, they want to help, they are looking for jobs and doing their best to learn English.
“They have been messaging saying they have been crying because they are so grateful and happy we’ve been able to do this for them.
“All the hosts are saying the same things – we’re giving up our homes for a year or two but we can’t imagine what it has been like for them in Ukraine over the last couple of months.
“There are loads of people wanting to support in any way they can. Some people can’t offer homes or a room, so they’re offering to help with travel, clothes or donations.
“The support has been amazing.”
If anyone is interested in becoming a sponsor to support families like Oleg’s, they should contact their County Badminton Association to express their interest or contact Lee Ward, Senior Relationship Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org
For those not in a position to offer accommodation but still wanting to support – our fundraising page provides an opportunity to pledge your support for the Ukraine Badminton Community and donate to the cause.