Children and parents across South London have raised an incredible £17,000 to pave the way for a mercy mission to aid Ukrainian refugees.
Last month we revealed that Lee Mason-Ellis, the 51-year-old chief executive of The Pioneer Academy, a trust which runs 13 schools, was to undertake a 26-hour drive to the Polish border with Ukraine, along with his city financier friend Bill Kemp.
Now the hero pair are back – and the fundraising efforts of children and parents cross the area has played its part in directly helping those refugees.
Lee and Bill took turns driving an old utility Land Rover – a grounds maintenance vehicle for the schools – down to a refugee camp in Lublin, and also ended up driving some Polish volunteers down to the border with Ukraine itself.
The cargo they had on board with them included new toothbrushes, toothpaste, ponchos, nappies, torches, first aid kits and teddy bears.
It was made up entirely of brand new goods rather than donations.
The Crescent Primary School, in The Crescent, Croydon, Stewart Fleming Primary School in Witham Road, Anerley and Broadmead Primary School in Sydenham Road, Croydon, were among the biggest drivers of the crowdfunding, with sponsored walks and cake sales.
Getting such essential supplies to the front line of the conflict is a source of pride for all concerned, although Lee admitted to the South London Press that a sense of satisfaction was muted.
“It is important to do all we can, but I don’t think it was enough, to be truthful,” said Bill, who lives in Bromley.
“We saw so many mums and young children and the scale of it is huge. After we had dropped off what we had brought with us, we did transport a couple of volunteers to the border but you leave feeling you could have done more.
“That one-and-a-half hour journey to the border was very eerie. In contrast to the autobahns which were full of humanitarian convoys and trucks, the roads nearer to Ukraine were deserted apart from police and volunteers.
“I won’t look back on the experience with fondness and it also felt wrong that we didn’t stay longer because so much needs to be done.”
Those misgivings apart, it has been a laudable effort. The trust initially set out to raise £5k, but thanks to the generosity of parents, carers, children and the local community, they raised that in no time and stretched their target twice more.
Typical of the initiatives was South Norwood Primary School in Crowther Road, Croydon, raising cash by having a day where children made a donation to wear blue and yellow clothes, the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
Leftover funds will be given to Unicef Ukraine Emergency, supporting Ukraine’s Children.
Stewart Fleming Primary School’s head teachers Lydia Coss and Katie Day said: “We are so pleased that so much money has been raised to support those in need.
“We are proud of the concern that our school has shown for those less fortunate than themselves and glad all the schools in our trust could work together to raise so much money.”