An oak sapling was planted in the grounds of a school in a moving ceremony last week to symbolise solidarity between refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine and those opening their hearts and homes to them in Islington.
The sapling was donated to Christ The King Catholic Primary School by Yulia, whose five-year-old son Nikita joined the school in April, one of 50 children to have been enrolled in the borough’s primary and secondary schools since the start of the conflict.
At Christ The King, families have donated uniforms, clothing, toys and a bed, a parent created a welcome banner for the school foyer, while the school brokered supermarket vouchers and school uniform donations from their supplier, gave the pupils laptops to support their learning and ordered dual-language books for its library.
In school, pupils have learned Ukrainian phrases to welcome the three children, who have started making friends and settling in. A fourth child will also join them shortly.
The uplifting planting ceremony saw the tree blessed, classmates Davide and Denys read A Prayer For Ukraine in both English and Ukrainian, and the school sang the hymn Let There Be Love.
John Lane, the school’s executive headteacher, said: “The donation of an oak tree was such a thoughtful gesture from one of our new Ukrainian families.
“We have enjoyed making them feel welcome since they joined our school recently. Our children and staff have been absolutely amazing, going the extra mile and doing everything they can to help.
“The tree will be a permanent reminder at Christ the King of how we helped our friends from Ukraine in their time of need and will forge friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.”
The ceremony was also attended by Cllr Michelline Ngongo, Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families, who said: “It was heart-warming to hear how the whole school has welcomed these families with open arms and genuine empathy, supporting them to settle in while helping ensure their new classmates understand some of the terrible circumstances they have fled.
“Islington has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need; I, too, made Islington my home after arriving here as a refugee.
“So, it was both a great privilege and a humbling experience to meet Nikita and Yulia and hear about their long journey from Ukraine to safe refuge here in Islington.
“The planting of the oak tree – a gift of gratitude – was a moving symbol of the enduring strength of hope, solidarity against tyranny, and new friendships across borders.”
Cllr Roulin Khondoker, Executive Member for Equalities, Culture and Inclusion, added: “As with all refugees who make Islington their home, we are working incredibly hard to support our Ukrainian families to settle in, get the support they need and integrate into our community.
“I would also like to pay tribute to the incredible generosity of residents who have made their homes available to Ukrainian refugees, as others have for families fleeing Afghanistan and other areas where war, intolerance or hate have made life impossible.
“We are absolutely committed to make Islington a more equal place for everyone who calls it home.”
The council has many roles in welcoming and supporting Ukrainian refugees. Its work so far includes:
Brokering 192 hosting arrangements with residents willing to welcome almost 300 Ukrainian refugees into their homes. More than half have already arrived and are settling in.
Processing more than 500 expressions of interest from other potential hosts in Islington;
The council is responsible for screening potential hosting arrangements to ensure they are suitable. This has so far entailed more than 200 enhanced DBS checks, more than 150 property inspections, 60 post-arrival inspections, and processing of monthly payments to hosts. It has also authorised and paid more than £22,000 in emergency cash payments to Ukrainian refugees, worked with local NHS partners to register and screen new patients, and supported schools to enrol and welcome 50 pupils (18 in secondary schools, 32 in primary schools);
Organising a special event for Ukrainian families living in Islington, to find out about the free services available and to get their own library ticket (Central Library, 2pm, 18 June);
Starting work on creating a Ukrainian library resource for refugee families;
Setting up a dedicated web page for Ukrainians arriving in Islington with information on housing, financial support, healthcare, travel, education, safety and more: https://www.islington.gov.uk/advice/support-non-uk-nationals/information-for-ukrainian-refugees