Help knows no borders

Small talk
Polish hotel group Arche has been going out of its way to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. Władysław Grochowski, the chairman of Arche Group, tells us exactly how it is able to do this while maintaining its normal operations.

Grupa Arche was one of the first companies in Poland to offer aid for the situation in Ukraine. What does this mean in practice?

Władysław Grochowski, chairman, Arche Group: We are providing around 5,000 places in our hotels on a rotational basis. When we know that people are coming west and some are trying to find apartments for themselves, we help them to relocate and find such places. The refugees receive free food and board from us, but those who can do, pay. A lot of companies are buying up places to stay for their Ukrainian employees. Of course, all the time we’ve been taking in people free of charge if they need it and we’ve been collecting donations, for which we are extremely grateful. What we need most is food for the kitchens in our hotels. But our activities are not just limited to food and board. Most of our Ukrainian guests – mothers with children – need time to catch their breath. Many have only just completed a long and arduous journey, so we are helping by, for example, setting up play areas for the children where volunteer carers can organise activities for them. We have also set up information points with volunteers who speak Ukrainian and can provide essential information, such as where to go for medical and legal advice or even just how to get to the nearest store. These places also give us information about what is needed the most. We then draw up lists of the items required and put together aid parcels.

The Arche group has 16 hotels. How many of these are involved in such activities?

All of them. We’ve set up a crisis council to coordinate these activities and direct refugees to wherever there are places. We are continuing to provide more places for refugees, including in Warsaw, because a hotel should as far as possible operate normally.

According to your media posts you are gradually running out of space, But you still manage to carry on!

All the time we have been continuing to manage the influx and whenever necessary we move those in need to other centres we have. Also, our hotel directors are turning other spaces such as conference rooms into additional places for people to sleep. We also have our regular operations, so we are looking for other centres that can be quickly turned into somewhere to sleep, such as empty offices, student halls and school buildings. It doesn’t take us long to adapt a centre, normally just a few days. One such example is in Ożarów on Warsaw’s western outskirts, where with the help of volunteers we have managed to open a centre with 200 beds in the space of a week. We have even started making the beds ourselves! Several different companies are helping us to do this and one of them even gave us 1,000 mattresses.

Arche has been working with a number of different charities for a long time. One is the Lena Grochowska Foundation, which houses people displaced from Kazakhstan. How did this initiative arise?

Helping those displaced was the main aim of this charity and the reason why it was set up. So far we have helped 28 families. Later on, its activities were expanded to helping the mentally disabled – and now we are working hard to help Ukrainians. Of course, we haven’t forgotten those others who have been displaced, but now we are putting all our efforts into helping Ukrainian refugees.

In such a situation, is the charity able to plan anything for the future?

We are going to carry on with our current activities including repatriated displaced people, employing the mentally disabled and setting up new branches. These are our continuing long-term activities. We hope that helping refugees will be temporary and that the war will soon end. We also have some new ideas, although they have been shelved for the moment due to the current situation. Recently we helped to build a school in the town of Bousso in Chad. We want to go back there and build a small hospital and enlarge the school. We also came up with the idea of providing apartments to the homeless in vacant flats that these future residents would renovate themselves. We want to provide all those in need with the materials and professional advice for doing this, and I think that there could be many takers.

With so many charitable activities it might be easy to overlook the fact that Arche is also a business that operates mainly in the residential and hotel markets. What are your immediate business plans?

We are going to grow in both sectors at the same time. Our hotels are mainly going to open in historic and rundown buildings that we aim to provide with a second lease of life. For many years we haven’t been purchasing land that wasn’t previously built on. Every year we intend to restore a number of such buildings into hotels and build hundreds of apartments. Renovation is definitely more interesting than developing a new hotel. Recently we completed one such hotel – the Uphagen Court in Gdańsk – and have more in the pipeline, such as in an aeroplane factory in Mielno and in a sanatorium in Nałęczów.

Interview: Anna Korólczyk-Lewandowska