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The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day is ‘Healing’ - and how the human spirit can persevere no matter what is thrown at it. 

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in late February, we’ve heard and seen many stories showing the strength of human endeavour. We’ve seen resilience in the face of unimaginable distress as more than 2.5 million people fled their homes for safety.

From the outset, everyone across the M&S family, from customers to colleagues and our suppliers, pulled together to provide meaningful support for those in need. 

We moved quickly to get behind UNICEF UK’S Ukraine Appeal with a corporate donation,  and pledged to double donations from customers who selected UNICEF UK as their Sparks charity. As the humanitarian crisis developed, we announced a further £1.5m support package, including a kickstart donation of £500,000 to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and 12,000 items of winter clothing.

Our customers also donated an incredible £1.9m through till-point and M& donations for UNICEF UK. While our colleagues raised £130,000 through fundraising events, which we match funded.

We’ve been grateful to play a small role in helping families and of course, our founder Michael Marks was a refugee himself. Michael was forced to leave his hometown of Slonim (in the then Russian Polish province of Grodno) in the early 1880s due to antisemitic pogroms. 

Rebuilding his life by starting out as a travelling pedlar, he overcame adversity to open his first market stall in Leeds. From there, he was able to establish a network of Penny Bazaar stores before securing investment from Thomas Spencer – putting them both on the path to creating the M&S brand we know today.

The desire to support refugees is woven through M&S’ history. Simon Marks, our Chairman between 1916 to 1964 and the son of Michael lobbied Parliament for the relevant permits and raised funds to help with the Kindertransport in the 1930s. 

During the Spanish civil war, M&S donated over 17,000 items of clothing and merchandise to 4,000 children evacuated to Southampton and funded a Red Cross supply flight for Hungarian refugee camps in 1957.

Today, we want to do more to help the healing process for refugees. We want to make applying and settling into a job at M&S easier for those forced to flee their country.

We’ve started by making our vacancies more accessible, with a dedicated careers page here for refugees with translated job descriptions.

We’ve also designed a support package for refugees starting at M&S. We’ll provide £100 in M&S vouchers to help them get started, whether it’s for clothes or lunches. We’ll also help with travel costs up to the first pay day to provide extra financial security.

Both of these measures will be underpinned by our buddy scheme, ensuring each refugee joining M&S feels fully supported. We want every colleague to be able to bring their whole selves to work, so each individual will be able to display the languages they speak on their name badge – making it easier to communicate with colleagues and customers.

Adjusting to a new job, let alone to a new country, culture and language, can be a difficult time. We hope these small measures have a big impact in helping refugees heal and begin to rebuild their lives. I look forward to welcoming them to the M&S Family.