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Homes for Ukraine: Hotel opens doors to refugees after housing rough sleepers in pandemic

The Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury has signed up to take part in the government's Homes for Ukraine scheme and says it will pass on the £350 payment to refugees.

The Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury opened its doors to help homeless people. Image: Gnesener1900/Flickr.

A hotel that took in around 100 rough sleepers during lockdown is now preparing to welcome Ukraine refugees – and says it will be giving them the £350 payment it receives as well.

The 70-bedroom Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, has signed up to take part in the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme and is urging other hotels to do the same.

Hotel manager Charlie Green says it was a simple decision to once again step up to help those in need. “It can work, we know it can work because we’ve done it,” she said.

Managing director Mike Mathews said the hotel plans to give the government’s monthly £350 funds directly to any refugees passing through its doors. He wants the money to go to Ukrainian guests so they can access clothes and other essential items once they arrive. 

Matthews, who now employs one of the people he took in during the government’s Everyone In scheme for rough sleepers, approached his staff about taking in refugees when the invasion began. He said: “Look, this reminds us so much of what we did [to house the homeless], albeit with different circumstances.

“But what can we do to help, as a little hotel in Shrewsbury? There’s not much we can do, but look what we did over the lockdown, we transformed the lives of over 100 people. We encouraged other hotels to open their doors as well.”

Staff at The Prince Rupert want the country’s biggest hospitality brands to follow their lead. Green said: “There’s hotels out there that are virtually empty, there’s hotels that are closed. Re-staff those hotels, there’s people out there without work, get them back into work.”

Hotel chain Premier Inn has 77,000 rooms alone, whilst Travelodge has 45,000 bedrooms in total. Matthews says if all the medium and large hotels in the country offered up five rooms each it would cater for more than 100,000 refugees.

Green explained the importance of helping those in need feel human again.

“We will not be charging for these bedrooms,” she said. “Please give the Ukrainians the money, the families the money, the individuals the money, so they can build their lives back up…We will look after them for as long as they’re here.”

Green said she was disappointed in the government’s handling of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

She added: “They have totally washed their hands of it. I think they have pushed it onto the general public. They are just expecting the public to step up and it’s wrong…they should be setting the example and they’re not.

“Just throwing them into a host family is not the answer. To start with they said anyone who had ties to Ukraine can come over. For goodness sake, just make them safe first. Bring them over, get them safe, then do the paperwork.”

Green’s comments echo much of the criticism aimed at the scheme, which leaves charities and refugee groups to match hosts with those fleeing the war-torn country but provides little guidance on how to do so.

Refugee Action has raised concerns about its lack of detail and criticised the government for putting the onus on the public and third sector.

It said: “We recognise that this scheme may provide the only chance for some Ukrainian refugees to reach the UK, but the government is asking the public to pick up the pieces of a refugee protection system that it has torn apart.”

Daniel Sohege, director of refugee and migrant advocacy group Stand For All, has also criticised the government for “passing the buck” onto the public, and described the scheme as the “privatisation of protection”.

More than 150,000 people have already signed up to express interest in opening their homes to those fleeing war. Phase one of the scheme opened on Friday, allowing sponsors in the UK to nominate a named Ukrainian or Ukrainian family to stay with them.

The government says when it launches phase two it will work more closely with charities to identify Ukrainians in need of protection in the UK.

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