Pub owner donates premises to house Ukrainian mothers and children

Charlie Southall, 43, said his experience of living in a women’s shelter as a child influenced his decision to make the offer.

Gemma Bradley
Thursday 17 March 2022 15:08 GMT
The Montreal Arms in Brighton needs renovating to turn it into a usable living space (Charlie Southall/PA)
The Montreal Arms in Brighton needs renovating to turn it into a usable living space (Charlie Southall/PA)

A pub owner who experienced living in a women’s refuge as a child has said offering his home to house Ukrainian mothers and children would give him a pleasure he had “not experienced before”.

Some nine days after collecting the keys to the Montreal Arms in Brighton, Charlie Southall decided to offer it for use as a free co-living space for Ukrainian women and children who have fled the Russian invasion.

The 43-year-old has lived in Brighton for the last 15 years but grew up in poverty and spent a summer living in a women’s refuge in Stafford when he was 10-years-old after his parents’ divorce.

The Montreal Arms, Brighton has been donated by it’s owner to Ukrainian refugees (Charlie Southall)
The Montreal Arms, Brighton has been donated by it’s owner to Ukrainian refugees (Charlie Southall)

At the time, Mr Southall received help from the youth charity The Prince’s Trust, founded by the Prince of Wales, which he said hugely influenced his decision to donate the building, as he knew the positive experience that charitable intervention could have.

“Although it sounds horrific, and of course there was an underlying crisis, I have got really positive memories from that experience because it felt like a fresh start,” he told the PA news agency.

“I’ve got firsthand experience of how that co-living, peer support system can really help people that are in that situation … now I’m able to do something to help others, and you know what, it’s been one of the nicest things I’ve done in recent times.

“I was watching the news and like all of us, I’ve been quite moved by the humanitarian crisis … it really had an effect on me.

“(Donating the pub) has woken me up and I’m enjoying it, it’s giving me a pleasure that I’ve not experienced before and it’s a fortunate position to be in.”

Artists impression of what the living area could look like (Dragonfly video production)
Artists impression of what the living area could look like (Dragonfly video production)

The video production company owner has started a GoFundMe page to raise £85,000 to pay for the renovations needed to turn the former pub into a usable living space.

The renovation plans include creating a kitchen, a living space and a play area for children, utilising the open-plan layout on the ground floor of the building.

There are already six rooms on the upper floor which will be used as bedrooms.

Mr Southall said he would offer the pub for a minimum of three years, to match the Government Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme which promises a three-year visa for refugees fleeing the war.

His campaign also aims to raise donations from local businesses and he would like local residents to contribute and participate in the building works.

Artists impression of what the bedrooms in the pub could look like (Dragonfly video production)
Artists impression of what the bedrooms in the pub could look like (Dragonfly video production)

He has been in talks with various charities to help with the property once it is up and running as a community space, including how to help with language barriers and mental health rehabilitation.

Mr Southall said he had been moved by the support of the local community in Brighton, and that people had offered kitchen appliances and vans to help move supplies.

One woman, who owns a local pottery cafe, offered tiles with which Ukrainian children could paint and decorate their rooms.

To follow Mr Southall’s fundraising efforts, visit www.gofundme.com/f/rennovating-a-home-for-ukrainian-refugees.

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