A Royal Thank You & Launch of Henley Community Soup

Gemma Birch, was invited to The Together at Christmas carol concert hosted by the Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey on 8 December in recognition for the work and support she and her volunteers have provided to Ukrainians fleeing the war through MotherSisterDaughter (MSD) in Henley.  The concert will be aired on ITV on Christmas Eve.

Gemma (pictured far left below) said, “I was extremely honoured to be invited.  I am not sure who put me forward but I was interviewed by David Woodgate, Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire who lives in Henley and then I was shortlisted. I was so proud to represent MotherSisterDaughter and all that we have achieved in supporting Ukrainian refugee families transition into our community since war started last year.  It was an amazing event and a fabulous thing to watch and had a real family focus.  It was also incredibly interesting to see the seamless operation behind the magnitude of this size of event along with being so accommodating for everyone attending. Even though the seating was randomly selected, it was lovely to sit next to a young 16-year old man who had raised £13k for Ukraine who had played violin concerts all over Devon.  When he was introduced to the Princess, he was physically shaking, his Lithuanian Mum must have been so proud.  The Princess is as beautiful and charismatic as she looks but I didn’t realize she would be as tall as she was.”

The MSD team of volunteers have continued to support the Ukrainians with weekly coffee mornings and have hosted two amazing jumble sales to raise money for a Christmas party and a family trip to the beach this summer.

Gemma added, “I must extend a huge thanks to Gaynor Peel, Iona Hoyle and Vicky Smith, who have continued to run our weekly coffee mornings for the past few months, and support our wonderful Ukrainian families, whilst changes in my personal life have not always afforded me the time to attend our weekly meet ups. I continue to be overwhelmed by the support that we have within our local community and am also immensely proud of what our volunteers and supporters have achieved since February last year. As time moves it is easy to forget how it started and what has been achieved, all the small wins made, but I maintain it simply would not have been possible without my core team of volunteers and all of the people that have helped in any small way during this time. We have been so successful in our support that many of our families have forged their new lives so efficiently that we don’t get to see them as often as we would like!”

When the war broke, MSD helped match host families, evacuate people on the next available flights whilst trying to process visa applications on a government system that was being built as they were trying to use it. MSD worked closely with Dave Eggleton to organise truck loads of supplies to go out to Ukraine and then collecting clothes, food, toiletries and toy donations locally.  They also helped with school applications, worked with Nomad team and the d:two Centre, supported host families, ran art workshops, yoga sessions, well being classes, and English classes set up by Diana Bartlett.

Gemma added, “Whilst sadly the situation in Ukraine remains unchanged, we are acutely aware of the wider impact the war has had on our global economy and the economic crisis that has gripped so many people now. We are very conscious that so many of our local community who were so generous in their support and donations last year, may indeed be struggling themselves now. Hence, we are excited to announce that as we roll into 2024 we are launching ‘Community Soup’ a monthly event to provide a safe place for anyone to come and share some food and conversation.”

The launch event will take place on 27 January 2024 at Henley Town Hall from 10am.

Gemma explains, “We want everyone to feel equal when they walk through the door and want it to become a vehicle to encourage ‘Community Chat’. We are but a big ‘soup’ of people and that is what makes a community. Please come and get to know your neighbours. Imagine how many small conversations that could be ignited, creating a ripple effect of small actions, meaning that our community is already a better place when we leave the event – what a movement we could create!

“Henley is an incredible place but there is a deep misconception that everyone is wealthy. Absolutely we live in a beautiful area and there any many high net worth individuals living here but there are also lots of people who have ‘high debt worth’; families that have chosen to mortgage or rent high so that their children can grow up in this fabulous place. We have a shocking percentage of children living under the poverty line and whom go to school hungry. Whilst the numbers might not be comparable to inner city schools or many other areas in the country, the point is that we should feel responsible for our neighbours and our community and do what we can to help the people we can.”

If you would like to get involved, we would love to hear from local businesses who can help provide food for this gathering, people who can help man this event and people who can spread the word.

For updates on this event, to register your interest and our further plans for 2024 please register on our website www.mothersisterdaughter.org.uk



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