Sanctuary In Chichester volunteer awarded the British Empire Medal

H M The Queen has awarded Ellen Thompson, a Sanctuary In Chichester volunteer, the British Empire Medal ‘for services to refugees in Chichester, West Sussex particularly during Covid-19’.

Ellen is a long-serving volunteer with the charity and leads on most of our work supporting children. Within a couple of weeks of lockdown beginning, Ellen had set up a weekly children’s video call, where children shared what they had been learning or creating that week, enjoyed competitions, games and singing together. This meant that children of all different ages could stay connected throughout lockdown, and speak English together every week – vital for children who don’t speak English at home and would be very isolated otherwise. 

In addition, Ellen provided home schooling support and coordinated other volunteers to do the same, so that every child could complete their schoolwork and continue learning throughout lockdown – another vital service, because parents generally couldn’t yet speak enough English to be able to home school their children using online school resources. Parents were supported to stay in communication with the schools and stay engaged with their children’s learning as much as possible – some of them really enjoyed learning alongside their children and improved their English in the process.

Ellen also encouraged all the refugees and asylum seekers we support who needed to improve their English – children and adults alike – to use the IXL app regularly. IXL ( donated a large number of free licences to the charity and Ellen ensured they were all being used as much as possible. Learners completed hundreds of hours of exercises and when everyone emerged after lockdown, many had actually become significantly better at speaking English, despite being stuck at home without interacting with other people for such a long time.

Amani Tomeh, from Syria, has three children who enthusiastically joined in on every children’s call. She says of Ellen, “She is a wonderful woman and she’s helped us a lot! She is always helping my daughter with reading, giving us advice and helping me with emails to the school.”

Tony Toynton, Chair of Trustees of Sanctuary in Chichester, says, “We are delighted that Ellen’s work with us supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the Chichester area has been recognised by this award. Ellen has been volunteering with Sanctuary in Chichester since 2017, and her compassion, energy and dedication to helping make everyone be and feel safe in their new communities are all outstanding. When we were all locked down in March 2020, Ellen, along with a small number of other people at Sanctuary In Chichester, ensured that all of our support for refugees and asylum seekers could continue ‘virtually’ and with huge success. It is fitting therefore that HM The Queen should choose to honour Ellen in this way.”

Ellen was “bowled over” to receive the award and says, “The great teamwork of fellow volunteers meant that, almost overnight, we moved online. Without this enthusiasm and encouragement it wouldn’t have happened. What a team – quite unique in my experience.”

– Gemma Driver

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