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Somerset Support for Ukrainian Refugees – George Reed sending humanitarian aid

I (George Reed) was asked by W.Bro Martin Slocombe APGM if I would be interested in helping a local group who were collecting humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees. So why me? Well, the group had put feelers out for someone with experience in Project Management and Logistics, and both of those areas were where I spent the majority of my professional life. The group was started by the Polish community in Weston-Super-Mare and was trying to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing ahead of the Russian invasion. They had been overwhelmed by the very positive response of everyone and were in dire need of help. 

They had managed to send a couple of ‘Sprinter’ Box Vans but had run out of room and facilities to handle the vast amount of aid that was being received daily;

Sorting the donations

Two private houses and a storage unit given by N. Somerset council were full to overflowing. Help came from Adrian Bartlett, a local businessman who owns Acorn Carp Fisheries at Kingstone Seymore. Adrian provided buildings, energy, and a comprehensive old boy’s network to keep the project moving. I, along with others provided a workforce and organisational skills. To date the operation has sent two 45-foot articulated lorry loads of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and will be sending at least one more next week.

Sorted and Prepared Aid in temporary storage awaiting onward transportation to Warsaw, Poland.

The humanitarian aid being sent is made up of camp beds, small tents, non-perishable food, first aid kits and medical supplies that can be bought over the counter, definitely no prescription drugs, clean warm clothing, shoes, boots, baby goods, toiletries, lady’s sanitary items, towels, and bedding (no pillows and the preference is for blankets not duvets’).

Sorted and Prepared Aid in temporary storage awaiting onward transportation to Warsaw, Poland.

The hub is located at Acorn Fisheries at Kingstone Seymore and has been extremely busy. We started out serving the Weston-Super-Mare area and the idea was to move collected equipment to London for onward transportation. However, the response in London was so great that they had to stop receiving equipment from the rest of the country. We have now had donations from a wide area including Chippenham and Bristol. Some of the vans you may have seen on local TV and may have thought were going direct to Poland have in fact come to us for onward transportation.

Lorry number 1 arrives

Having sent two 45 footers, we have temporarily closed our collection point, whilst we regroup and tidy up, but are opening again on Saturday 12th Mar 2022. To date the lorries are Polish trucks who have made deliveries in UK, and rather than picking up a commercial, fee-paying return load their owners have agreed and allowed us to use the return journey for our collected aid, contact is maintained through the local Polish community in Weston-Super-Mare.

It cost circa £2000.00 in fuel to have an Artic move to Ukraine, to date individuals have put their hands in their pockets to fund this but that is not sustainable and cannot go on much longer, so looking forward we will need to find funding support for that. A local company has loaned free of charge a forklift truck to help reduce manual handling, and Adrian Bartlett, has turfed out his collection of beloved vintage tractors from their sheds and parked them in surrounding fields so that we can sort and prep stuff for transportation in the dry.  

After the forklift has done its job, every available space is crammed by hand

Sorting the kit produces a fair amount of rubbish, for which we have to pay to dispose of; on Wednesday we were charged £100. 00 for one van load of recyclable waste. None of the people in this group are paid and none take anything for helping, they are all volunteers who keep putting their hand in their pockets for all sorts of things, I am continually humbled by the response and generosity of all.

At the moment I am the only Mason helping with this effort, that is not for want of volunteers, but because we currently have a plethora of people coming forward which is more than enough. However, the need for help is constantly reviewed, and we have already noticed a slight decline in numbers, due in no small part to fatigue; it is really hard, sometimes emotional work, sorting kit into suitable loads and then loading a 45-footer. Which when full I can promise you you would have a job to squeeze another pair of socks on, trucks are rammed absolutely full.

Lorry Number 2 ready for Loading

The destination is a hub in Warsaw where the loads are broken down and sent via smaller vans to where the aid is needed.

For info: W.Bro George W Reed, 07071 923835, E: gwr.marine232@gmail.com

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