A North Shields woman has started a comforting project to help bring some comfort to children who have been forced to flee their home country.
Ann Wright, 66, knits teddy bears to give as a welcome gift to Ukrainian refugee children arriving in the UK. A regular knitter and crocheter, retired Ann previously made bears for key NHS workers during the pandemic.
Ann was moved to pick up her knitting needles for a good cause once again after seeing the events in Ukraine unfold in the news. “I was so upset by what was happening in Ukraine and felt so helpless.” Anne remembers.
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“Being a grandmother myself, I just couldn’t understand that it could be my grandchildren. I wanted to give them some love – and these little bears are full of love.
Ann set up the craft project with the help of her daughter Charlotte to provide bears for children from Ukraine to the northeast. They were inspired by Judith Kerr’s novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which tells the story of a Jewish family fleeing Berlin and was one of Charlotte’s favorite books as a child.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things children are forced to leave behind,” says Ann. “I wanted to do something more for those who have lost everything.”
The bears are knitted using the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag and are all unique in appearance. Each bear takes Ann about eight hours to make, and so far she has personally brought 16 bears to life.
Ann and Charlotte created a Facebook group in March, “Hero Bears for Refugee Children”, to encourage others to knit their own bears at home. She was surprised by the incredible response from other knitters, with people from all over the region quickly joining the project.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed,” says Ann. “I figured I’d end up making as many teddy bears as I could and only give away a few.” But I’m so proud of everyone. And everyone is so happy with their bears – they’re so proud of them. »
The project has spread along the North East coast, with knitters and crocheters in areas such as Whitley Bay, Cullercoats, Seaton Delaval and Blyth involved so far. As people start to take interest outside the North East, Ann hopes this will become a UK-wide project to help distribute bears across the country.
Their Facebook group now has over 100 members, who have so far made 60 bears between them. The teddy bears will be sent to people who have registered to host Ukrainian refugees under the government’s Homes For Ukraine program, so that they can be given to children when they arrive in their new homes.
Ann and her fellow knitters recently sent 50 teddy bears to Newcastle City Council, who have worked closely with the group to ensure the teddy bears go to local residents who have come forward to host Ukrainian refugees.
“I hope it shows that we are thinking of them and what they have lost,” Ann says of the children who will soon receive the bears. “What they’ve been through – they’re all little heroes.”
Ann encourages more people to get involved in the project – and whether you’re a fan of knitting or crocheting or are completely new to the hobby, she ensures that everyone can participate. “If I can do it, anyone can do that,” she said.
For those who would like to help but don’t have the time or resources to make their own bears, Ann says the group would benefit from yarn donations to ensure knitters can continue making bears. Ann is also urging those who have registered to host Ukrainian refugees to get in touch if they would like one of the bears.
Newcastle City Council encourages anyone wishing to find out more about hosting refugees through the Homes For Ukraine program to contact them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.