HAVING had a Jewish grandfather who lost almost all his family in the Holocaust, Maryport woman Kelly Davis has always felt some empathy with those who are forced to flee war and persecution.

Kelly is a freelance editor in her mid-sixties who moved from London to Maryport in 1989.

In 2017, she got to know some members of the Carlisle Refugee Action Group and heard about the terrible conditions in Calais.

The Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme had just started and some families were being sent to West Cumbria from Syrian war zones.

Cumbria County Council’s Resettlement Team provided initial support but a voluntary group was also needed to help these families adapt to a totally new way of life – so Kelly and a few like-minded people set up the West Cumbrian Refugee Support Network (WCRSN).

“I was chairman for four years and am now treasurer," she said.

“Over the last five years, the group has become more established and has recently welcomed several Afghan families escaping the Taliban.

“WCRSN offers friendship, practice with English–conversation, help with transport, occasional outings to introduce new families to the beauty of Cumbria.”

The group also assists with other practicalities such as assistance with getting their UK driving licences through Minutes for Miles (M4M), set up by volunteers Abigail Mann and George Cairns.

In 2022, WCRSN received a High Sheriff’s Award from David Beeby for the M4M scheme, which makes a huge difference to refugees’ quality of life and employability.

In autumn 2022, the Home Office sent around thirty men seeking asylum to the Waverley Hotel in Whitehaven. Many of them only had the clothes they were wearing.

“Fortunately, WCRSN was able to gather donated clothes quickly and the SERCO manager welcomed assistance from WCRSN and other local charities.

“Hotel residents are not allowed to take paid work, but current WCRSN chairman Alan Alexander, has arranged volunteering opportunities for them, with the West Cumbria Rivers Trust and the National Trust."

Kelly said: “Recent hostile government rhetoric and the current policy of rapid dispersal have made things extremely difficult.

"Nevertheless, WCRSN will continue to support people who have lost everything and desperately want to start new lives and contribute to British society.”