East of England’s support for refugees, from the Spanish Civil War to the present day

80 years after it took in 100 children fleeing the brutal conflict, the co-op has donated £9,000 to local refugee charities

In 1937, 100 child refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War arrived in Suffolk and were given accommodation at the Georgian mansion at Wherstead Park, now head office of the East of England Co-op.

The then-Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society provided the children with free bread as well as educational and recreational activities including a trip to Felixstowe sea front.

This year East of England marked the 80th anniversary of the event by commissioning a commemorative plaque at Wherstead Park. It was unveiled by Francisco Robles, on his first return visit to the mansion since arriving as a child at the age of ten.

In addition, the society has donated £9,000 to three refugee charities in the region. Suffolk Refugee Support, Essex Integration and Diocese of Norwich Refugee Appeal each received £3,000, helping them to support refugee families.

Related: Co-ops offer a hand in resettlement of refugees

It is believed there are over 20 million refugees displaced from their homes across the world.

“At Suffolk Refugee Support we help those who have fled with vital advice, learning and support,” said Rebecca Crear, team manager.

“We help these people to access a fair decision on their need for protection and where granted leave to stay in the UK. We work to make sure they can become independent and contributing members of society as soon as possible.

She added that the donation would enable the charity to provide essential items such as emergency food, clothing, shelter and transport for those with no other means.”

“These are people who have suffered immense hardship in their own countries and who find themselves facing further hardship here whilst they struggle to rebuild their shattered lives.”

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive for the East of England Co-op, said: “As current owners of Wherstead Park we felt it only right to commemorate this special anniversary and recognise the local communities and businesses that played a vital role in providing care and support for the children that stayed here.

“We’re incredibly proud of our heritage and for the support the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society provided the children, and are pleased that we’re able to continue that support for refugees today.”

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