THE owners of a Greenock hotel who provided a safe haven for refugees from war-torn Ukraine have told of their pride at helping for the last two years - as they prepare to reopen to the public next month.

The team at the OYO Gin House inn had originally planned to sponsor one family through the UK Government's 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme but ended up housing scores of people fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland.

Hotel partner James Gisbey has told how hearing the stories of how the New Scots escaped Vladimir Putin's war helped them realise what an important role they were playing.

James said: "We're very proud to have been part of something that helped so many families. 

"The refugees were fantastic and it was great to have them here."

The hotel's contract with the Scottish Government is due to end on July 1, maning that the 17 rooms at the hotel will once again be able to be booked by members of the public.

James - who runs the OYO with Tom and Shirley Smith, and Stevie Morrison - said: "This is a new chapter for us now and we're really looking forward to it."

(Image: George Munro)

"We had mums staying here with new babies and that really brought it home to us just how much we were helping. 

"We would speak to the families and if they wanted to go back to Ukraine and some of them said they wanted to but had nowhere to go. 

"The adults were all very keen to get to work and went to a lot of job fairs."

The OYO team had found a family - Olana Kolesnykova, her daughter Valeriia, and nine-year-old Kseniia - who needed help. 

The hotel raised almost £1,000 to try to get the family to Inverclyde but were met with a series of obstacles along the way.

Representatives from the Scottish Government then approached the team about welcoming refugees. 

James said: "They came out to inspect the hotel and said they were really happy with it and would take the whole hotel.

"We weren't expecting that but were really happy to get involved."

James says the first group of refugees were mostly women and children, and then in the weeks and months that followed, more couples arrived. 

All 17 rooms in the hotel were filled by the end of the process. 

James says having refugee families staying in the hotel helped the business clear some of the debt accrued due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

He added: "During covid, we had to stay open for insurance purposes but we had no customers. 

"We were spending money having to stay open. 

"Having the Ukrainians here helped us clear some of those debts."

When the new Scots families arrived at the hotel, they received help with applying for visas and citizenship, and were referred to the housing department. 

James says the majority of individuals and families who stayed at the hotel have now moved into homes all over Greenock.

(Image: George Munro)
The longest an individual or family remained at the hotel for was three months. 

James said the team at the hotel loved being a base for the refugees to form their own community. 

He added: "Families had birthday parties and New Year parties here and everyone seemed to settle in really well. 

"We ran our Saturday jam session every Saturday and they really enjoyed that. 

"They were all really lovely people and we got to know everyone.

"We still have families coming back to say 'hello' when they're passing by."

(Image: George Munro)

James and the team have freshened up the hotel in preparation for the relaunch. 

Hugh Pyper has helped out with carpets and rooms have been redecorated. 

James hopes that people coming to see shows at the Beacon will book in for overnight stays, and Don McGovern and the team at Osprey Catering are also working on a pre-theatre menu. 

James said the team are looking forward to what's ahead for the hotel. 

He added: "The Ukrainian families were no trouble at all when they were here and we're pleased to have been part of the whole experience. 

"It's a really exciting time for us."