Volunteers at Ukraine aid centre in Banbury left homeless after huge electric bill

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A Banbury volunteer group that sends aid to victims of the war in Ukraine has been left homeless after receiving a huge electricity bill.

The UK Help for Ukraine is looking for new premises after receiving a bill of £174,932.46 from energy provider Npower in September.

Since leaving the old Debenhams site in Castle Quay, volunteers of the group led by Magdalena Kwiecinska have been storing food and medicines at home and in their vehicles.

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In a statement published online, the group said: “UK Help for Ukraine is looking for a new place through no fault of our own. We need to move out from the old Debenhams unit in Banbury as soon as possible!

Magdalena Kwiecinska (left) from UK Help for Ukraine outside the Castle Quay premises.Magdalena Kwiecinska (left) from UK Help for Ukraine outside the Castle Quay premises.
Magdalena Kwiecinska (left) from UK Help for Ukraine outside the Castle Quay premises.

"If anyone knows about any empty unit/shop in Banbury, the best rent free for next 6 months, please drop us a message or email us.

"We know the situation in the world is very tough, especially after another war start. But we are not stopping sending our help to Ukraine and want to continue helping those in needs.”

The electricity bill was addressed to the Wislawa Szymborska Polish School charity, which claims to have never used the space but took on the lease to help the UK Help for Ukraine group start up.

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Jayne Wheat, a volunteer with the UK Help for Ukraine group, said they had struggled to find a suitable deal with an electricity provider since they moved to the premises in March last year.

She said: “We have had difficult times trying to get an established electricity account and tariff and have never managed to get anything satisfactory.

"Then all of a sudden, we were dumped with this ridiculously enormous electricity bill, and there’s no way we could have possibly used that much electricity.

"We are contesting it, looking into it, and asking to have meters read, but Npower has never been forthcoming with any help or been able to offer an explanation.”

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The group says that they only occupied one floor of the site for around six hours each day and have no idea why the electric bill was so high.

After the electricity was cut off in August, the volunteers worked with headlamps until management at Castle Quay insisted they leave due to the safety concerns of working in the dark.

Jayne said: “We still have thousands of pounds worth of stock on site ready to be sent out to Ukraine; that’s just sitting there, and we now have the difficulty of trying to get it out of the building with no lights and electric doors.

“We will have to go in to pack up and move stuff because we have pallets and boxes full of items and essentials, including life-saving aid, which has got to be sent to Ukraine.”

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The Banbury Guardian is still waiting for a response from Npower regarding UK Help for Ukraine’s electricity bill. In a previous statement, the energy provider said that the group responsible for the unit had not paid for any electricity used since moving to the premises in March.