Chef launches project to connect Ukrainian refugees with hospitality businesses

14 March 2022 by
Chef launches project to connect Ukrainian refugees with hospitality businesses

A chef is preparing to travel to the Ukrainian border next week after launching a campaign to connect refugees displaced by the conflict with hospitality businesses able to offer accommodation and employment.

Steven Saunders, of the Willow Tree in Bourn, Cambridge, previously worked in Ukraine and has launched the Odessa Project with Willow Tree owner Shaina Galvin.

Last week he called on the government to approve fast-track visas giving the right to work after being contacted by more than a hundred businesses wanting to welcome refugees.

He has been in contact with ministers and is now confident his scheme will be approved, in line with the government's own proposal, which it is understood will grant Ukrainians at least three years' leave to remain, the right to work, access to public services and most benefits.

The chef told The Caterer: "The objective is to get work permits for the Ukrainian people for when they get here. We need to get them here and find places for them to live, but they don't want to just stay with people they want to work and earn money.

"I had more than one hundred messages, one after the other, all saying 'we have accommodation, we have jobs, when can we help?' It's quite emotional, I didn't expect this kind of response."

Steven Saunders with Shaina Galvin
Steven Saunders with Shaina Galvin

He plans to travel to Lublin in Poland and Ukraine's border with Moldova to speak to refugees and has ambitions to place 1,000 individuals with UK hospitality businesses. He said 100 businesses have signed up to date and he hopes 200 more will come forward.

He added that the project will be mutually beneficial, providing employees for an industry "on its knees".

"There are no staff in hospitality – I could employ another two or three chefs here today. All hotels and restaurants are crying out.

"We're saying we can give people jobs, salaries and accommodation. We primarily want to help refugees but also help hospitality."

After the government was heavily criticised for the lack of support shown to refugees, Michael Gove launched the Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme, allowing individuals to apply to host Ukrainians in their homes. Health secretary Sajid Javid has since said there will be no cap on the number of people offered support.

Those wishing to sign up to the Odessa Project can contact Saunders on

Main image: Ukrainian refugees cross into Hungary at the end of February. Credit: Shutterstock

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