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Chef Steven Saunders and The Willow Tree owner work on campaign to help Ukrainian refugees

Chef Steven Saunders and restaurant owner Shaina Galvin, who run The Willow Tree in Bourn, have created The Odessa Project, a campaign to help refugees find new homes and jobs in the UK’s hospitality industry.

The project will see the celebrated chef visit the Polish/Ukrainian border to help Ukrainian refugees travel to the UK and establish themselves here. The organisers are “working with the UK government to fast-track the permission of working visas for Ukrainian refugees”. The Ukrainians will then be offered “sponsorship opportunities in the UK hospitality industry” – opportunities which will include whole families.

Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn, with owner Shaina Galvin planning The Odessa Project. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn, with owner Shaina Galvin planning The Odessa Project. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I have the full support of the Master Chefs of Great Britain and the UK hospitality industry,” says Steven. “All I need now is government support to fast-track visas. My friend Sir David Wright is assisting me and has put me in touch with some senior officials and governmental figureheads. They are working fast to get a solution to the visas.

“My aim is to get as many refugees into the UK as possible, offering them security, jobs and homes.

“I will be going myself so that I can meet them, discuss career and housing opportunities with them and ultimately give them the hope and assurance they deserve. Like many I am very saddened and angry about the atrocities – I would fight if I were younger.”

Shaina, Steven’s business partner and owner of The Willow Tree restaurant, added: “We are one of many businesses who can offer these opportunities if the government agrees to act swiftly, make changes and permit this approach.

“I’m currently creating The Odessa List featuring local Cambridgeshire-based opportunities to put forward to Ukrainians for consideration. With national interest and involvement we believe this could become a real opportunity to bring Ukrainian refugees into the UK hospitality industry where plenty of jobs with accommodation are available – not just for a few but for as many people as possible.”

Details of a fundraiser for the UNICEF Ukraine appeal to be held at The Willow Tree later this month will be publicised soon. Meanwhile, a £1 donation for UNICEF Ukraine is now being added to all customer bills at The Willow Tree.

Millions of Ukrainian refugees have fled or are fleeing the country since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

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