Kirsty McLuckie: Room for more thought

This week’s launch of a UK Government scheme for British householders to host refugees from Ukraine is just one more sad indication of exactly how dire the current situation is in Eastern Europe.
Image: Mark WiensImage: Mark Wiens
Image: Mark Wiens

But, thankfully, the response from the British public has been very generous. Tens of thousands of UK households signed up to the Homes for Ukraine website on the first day of the scheme, initially –and perhaps predictably – causing the system to crash. Almost 20 per cent of the UK population are thought to be considering making their home a temporary abode for people on the move due to Putin’s illegal war.

And for those householders wrestling with their consciences and wondering whether to opt into the scheme and offer a home to a displaced person or family, there is a lot to consider.

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I’m weighing the decision up myself – and find myself constantly mentally rearranging the layout of my house to see if we could fit someone in. Meanwhile, my parents – war babies themselves –have already signed up their spare room, blithely hopeful that the selection process will send them a genteel elderly Ukrainian couple rather than a group of rambunctious teenage boys.

My mother-in-law was evacuated from Liverpool as a child, and she and her siblings were housed in homes around North Wales for months at a time during the Second World War. In World War I, my grandparents’ church congregation took a whole village of Belgian refugees into their homes.

But now, on the possible verge of a third world-wide conflict, it is my generation that is being asked to aid the most vulnerable – and we can only be grateful that we are being appealed to for help, rather than needing it ourselves.

On our local village’s social media site, there are plenty of ideas being put forward. We are in an area with many holiday homes, and so a few locals posited filling these properties with refugees from the Ukraine war.

I noted, however, that in general this solution did not come from people who actually owned the holiday homes. Am I allowed a wry smile at such public generosity with other people’s property?

There are many short-term rentals to be found in Scotland – from one-bed Airbnbs in Edinburgh to vast country houses used for large groups of guests. But there is a difference between these and an underused second home. For many, a rental property is a business, and owners have mortgages and expenses to cover by letting it.

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Just as we cannot insist other people take in refugees, we cannot call for others to give up their livelihoods. The moral dilemma of holiday home ownership is not going to be solved in time to help the numbers fleeing Putin’s oppression.

But there is plenty of space to manoeuvre between taking in a busload of refugees yourself and doing absolutely nothing.

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As communities or groups are also allowed to sponsor refugees under the government scheme, getting together to fund the rent on a whole house or flat is a real possibility.

In some areas, the rental market is already so squeezed that finding spare suitable property might be hard, but where there are homes available, organisations – or even groups of friends – should consider a collective approach to help.

In our village, as well as individual pledges to host, we are on the search for available long-let properties which can be paid for by subscription. In this way, people can have something to contribute to, or fundraise for, even if they don’t have a spare room.

And while arrivals from Ukraine will be grateful to have a spare room, how much better to be able to give them their own home?

- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman

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