A renowned badminton coach and former England veterans international is embarking on arguably his most rewarding challenge yet having welcomed a family from war-torn Ukraine into his home.
Denis Cleary has coached at Harrogate Racquets Club for the past two decades and, along with wife Helen, signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme upon the outbreak of conflict in the country.
His interest was further piqued by Helen Thornton launching the Badminton Homes for Ukraine appeal and the Clearys soon linked up with Liliiya and her children Vanya [Ivan], 16, and Varvara [Vara], 11, both of whom are keen badminton players.
A good judge of talent after a lifetime in the sport, Cleary has identified potential in both youngsters and quickly initiated them into local clubs in North Yorkshire to provide a welcome sense of normality in unimaginably difficult circumstances.
“There was a bit of upset when the kids’ father was called up but he is now in reserve following a medical, which brought a sigh of relief all around,” Cleary said.
“For Helen and I, we went from the two of us rattling around to adopting three people who don’t really speak the language, but we’ve all coped really well.
“We’ve changed our lifestyle totally. When I get back from coaching, we’d normally slob out on the settee watching TV but we’re now playing cards and other games together every night, so it’s nice for us to do something different.
“Liliiya is a chef back home, too, so some of the food she’s cooking us is absolutely fantastic.
“We were in a prime position to take on a family who play badminton and both children play to a reasonable level – Ivan is an accomplished player for 16.”
Both children have been given Badminton England memberships, along with an equipment pack, to ease the transition and Ivan has already made an impression at his new local club.
“Harrogate Racquets played their last Yorkshire League match of the season last weekend and were short of players, so they asked if Ivan could play,” he said.
“They needed five rubbers to win the Division 1 title and they got to the last rubber with four.
“Ivan played the last rubber, a mixed doubles with a girl who was also in as a reserve, and they won the game to win the Division 1 title for Harrogate Racquets.
“He’s at a good level and I’m going to give him as many opportunities as I can.”
Ivan is also set to travel to Greece and Cyprus with Hummersknott Badminton Club, who have given four places in the annual touring party to Ukrainian players, while his mother and sister are also settling into Yorkshire life, with a job interview lined up at a local school for Liliiya while Varvara has begun attending a school of her own.
“It’s important for her to go to a primary school and make friends so she’s not walking into a secondary school on her own come September,” Cleary added.
“It has been quite a commitment but we are so glad we made the decision to help a family.”
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor to support families like Liliiya’s, please contact your County Badminton Association to express interest or contact Lee Ward, Senior Relationship Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those not in a position to offer accommodation but still wanting to support – our fundraising page provides an opportunity to pledge your support for the Ukraine Badminton Community and donate to the cause.