Edinburgh Local

Build Close Connections: University of Sanctuary

The University of Edinburgh’s role as a University of Sanctuary is more important than ever as we work with members of the local community who have had to flee conflict and persecution in their countries of origin. This offer of support is central to Community Plan Commitment 23.

In February 2022, Ukraine was invaded by Russia resulting in a war that was still ongoing at the end of the year. The impact of the war was quickly felt locally not only by Ukrainians already living in the Edinburgh region, but also through Ukrainians arriving in Scotland as refugees. As time progressed, the University quickly began receiving requests for assistance that extended beyond those of an academic nature, highlighting the opportunity for support the University could provide.  

Requests for residential accommodation, translators, storage space, volunteers, loan of vehicles, fundraising appeals, IT equipment, local social activities, local airport greeters and English language tuition, to name a few, led to a range of assistance being offered by the University. The University was able to quickly internally organise itself to provide the holistic, coordinated, local and international response required to those most impacted. Here are a few examples:  


Council for At-Risk-Academics (Cara)

We are a founding member of the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) and were the first University of Sanctuary in Scotland.

Working with Cara, as we did for academics displaced by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Yemen, we have agreed funding to host ten at-risk scholars from conflict zones across the world, with a focus on Ukraine as the most pressing issue. Cara has set up a fundraising appeal to support their work bringing academics to safety.  


English Language Tutoring 

Image shows group of community members and staff members posing for a photo

Working in partnership with community group Re-Act, Moray House School of Education & Sport (MHSES) has recruited tutors for a project in which children from refugee families are given one-to-one tutoring to help increase their English language, their attainment in school and their sense of inclusion and belonging.

As MHSES Widening Participation Champion, staff member Deborah Holt has provided training for all tutors (both students and community volunteers) and offered ongoing support for their role. Deborah has worked in partnership with project leaders to plan and enact next steps.  

As a result of the formal evaluation carried out and the associated written report, Re-Act were able to access funding to continue their work for a further two years after the pilot. The pilot was originally funded by a University Community Grant that preceded the war in Ukraine.  


Language is a way to connect, belong and make friends. Tutoring builds learner confidence and self-belief.

Deborah Holt, Moray House, on Re-Act tutoring project 


Deborah is continuing to develop and strengthen the partnership between MHSES and Re-Act as they together plan further enhancements and extensions to the provision offered. Evaluation and research indicate that the project is having positive impact on confidence and inclusion. Measuring impact on academic attainment is a longer-term aim. Additionally, research into the tutoring element has led to an academic article which offers useful guidance for other groups wishing to run a project for pupils using volunteer tutors. A further article, on the families' experiences of the project, is to follow. 


Photo shows children playing outside and running towards the camera


The main challenges for this tutoring project have been time – not just that of MHSES and Re-Act staff. Many local schools have shown willingness but have also had difficulty finding the time to work with MHSES and Re-Act. The project team is currently exploring ways to work with schools in ways that require minimal or no extra time from teachers 


Image shows group of children and student volunteers posing for a photo outdoors


Educational Support

Dr Ekaterina Popova, a Teaching Fellow in Russian in the School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, has also been helping to support families recently arrived in Edinburgh. Working with her students, she has provided a range of educational support for Ukrainian refugees, particularly children. Many Ukrainian families have lost everything, and the education of children has been interrupted, creating a desperate need for educational support.  

Edinburgh Global and the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability jointly funded 12 summer holiday club places for Ukrainian refugee children in the city. Ekaterina had been supporting the children and their families with their English language prior to the summer break. She had foreseen that children would lose much of what they’d learned if they stayed home with their parents all summer and had the idea that the city’s usual summer childcare clubs could be a solution. 


Overall, it has been an invaluable experience for myself, students, other staff, hosts, parents and children. My students and I will continue to do our best to make sure that Ukrainian refugees feel supported by offering further educational activities in the next academic year.

Dr Ekaterina Popova 


Circular Economy Collections for Refugees

Accommodation, Catering and Events ran a collection in May 2022 in conjunction with Re-Act for essential items people in Ukraine specifically required. Once collected, the University’s goods were added to Re-Act’s shipment to Ukraine. 

The Edinburgh University Students' Association and their team of volunteers processed goods suitable for donation. Items were put towards various Ukrainian support causes in order to provide aid to those suffering in Ukraine and those starting new lives here in Scotland. 


The University of Edinburgh were hyper reactionary to the terror and subsequent struggles faced by the people of Ukraine this year and were keen to incorporate support mechanisms into the undergraduate resource collection program.

Recreate, on University-organised end-of-year collections of students’ surplus item


Keen to create an internal resource redistribution event for their students returning for the new academic year, the University once again leaned on Edinburgh University Students' Association's volunteer network to process select goods. A total of 645kg of resources were set aside. A 'Free Shop' took place in September 2022 to facilitate the recirculation of these homewares, kitchenware, stationary, books, and other daily essentials. 


Image shows people at the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain

Community Grant Awarded to the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain  

The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), Edinburgh Branch, received £5,000 under the Community Grants scheme to be put towards a community refugee hub and support service. 

The hub provides vital clothing, equipment, practical advice and emotional support to displaced Ukrainian people who have been forced to flee the conflict with Russia. 

With grant funding, the community refugee hub offers a support services on a drop-in basis, facilitates English conversation meet-ups, runs a weekly community café, and serves as a collection point for start-up packs.

AUGB has gone on to send collections back to Ukraine, to those in need of support as the war continues. 

We are exceptionally grateful to the University of Edinburgh for the recent grant award.  The challenges being faced by refugees arriving in Edinburgh are unimaginable. We are seeing a broad range of trauma amongst refugees as well as a resolute focus in supporting their homeland to get through this latest chapter in the country's history. We hope that the aid hub, from the information sessions, to social and cultural activities that we deliver, will provide refugees with the support that they require.

Hannah Beaton-Hawryluk, AUGB Edinburgh Chair


Find out more: 

Community Plan: Learn more about our Community Plan 2020 - 2025.