Blog | Ukrainian families welcomed with warm Scouts hospitality

Blog | Ukrainian families welcomed with warm Scouts hospitality

03 February 2023

Blog written by Claire McIntosh, External Engagement Lead, Scouts Scotland

On Saturday morning I joined Scouts staff and volunteers to welcome a group of Ukrainian families at Bonaly Scout Centre. Here on the edge of the beautiful Pentland Hills, we enjoyed a fun-packed day in the great outdoors, something I learned this group of refugees had been longing for. As we shared hot chocolate and marshmallows around a campfire that evening, I realised that I was singing songs and sharing laughs with people I’d met only a few hours earlier.

Through the day we’d come together - staff, volunteers and families - to play highland games on the camping field, enjoy warm soup and rolls in the dining hall and take a short hike up into the hills, where the weather treated us to stunning views of the Lothians and Fife. As the day went on, conversation flowed and happy selfies were abundant.

Speaking over lunch to a group of Ukrainian mothers, students and children I learned a lot about life for them as refugees living on a cruise ship at Leith Docks. One student, Lisa, who is now studying at Edinburgh college told me:

“The ship is like Noah’s Ark to us. We didn’t know each other before we came to Scotland but now we are like a village. We have families living as neighbours on the ship, attending school, college, university and work just as any community would. We are very happy there. We have a shop and there are lots of activities for children too, dancing and crafts, but the thing we all miss is daylight. It is quite dark on the ship and some rooms don’t have windows, so the chance to be outside is precious to us.”

Scouts Volunteer, Stuart Buchanan said: “I recently started volunteering here after attending a Give It A Go volunteer recruitment day. Many things fell into place making it the right time for me to get involved in Scouting again, after a 25-year gap! Today has been a wonderful experience. Taking the young people up into the hills and showing them the Scottish scenery has been a highlight. This is what volunteering is about, helping people in our communities enjoy the outdoors and most importantly ensuring these young people have fun and good experiences."

Explorer Scout Leaders Martin and Alex told me how eager the Scouts in their unit had been to help too. They turned up to greet the families with Ukrainian flags and big smiles, then they staying involved all day, demonstrating games, helping fit kit, guiding the walk and leading the campfire entertainment.

South East Scotland Scouts Regional Commissioner, Martin Elliot, said: “It was a privilege to join the young people, volunteers and Bonaly staff for this event. Seeing how much the young people got from the experience and getting the chance to hear a bit of their stories highlights how important opportunities to take part in outdoor activities are for all young people. I learnt so much from the day and look forward to further opportunities like this in the future.”

As part of the Scouts Scotland team, I’m fortunate to work with charity partners and amazing volunteers who champion kindness and inclusion in our communities. It was lovely to see this in action at Bonaly on Saturday. A heartfelt thank you to Peter, Mark and Barry at Bonaly Scout Centre for organising the day, to City of Edinburgh Council for lending us the boots and kit the families needed and thanks to everyone else involved.