The Heart of the Community
Although not a new concept, this past year has highlighted the range of initiatives which schools take part in to support the social needs of their communities. These extra efforts show how important our schools are to the wellbeing of young people, their families and wider society. And how each one sits at the very heart of their community.
Schools have an important role in the communities they serve. As well as working as hubs in which pupils and staff come together in school, they enjoy close connections with local organisations and the people in the town or village they’re located in. These strong bonds work in a range of ways – from enabling the children access to additional community resources or experiences, to providing extra volunteer help to enrich lives. These relationships have been more important than ever over the past year when our schools have provided much needed support in the most unique of circumstances.
In the past year the issue of keeping children fed has attracted a great deal of attention.
Our schools stepped in quickly, with many supporting families with food parcels ahead of the move to the Government’s voucher scheme. And once that was in place the help didn’t stop, with schools topping up food provision for those families who needed more support.
During recent months these food parcels were supplemented with donations providing fresh produce for families in greatest need. A number of our schools including Rose Green Juniors, Medmerry Primary and Edward Bryant have teamed up with UK Harvest, collecting food donations from the food charity and distributing directly to families and into local foodbanks.
The team at East Preston Junior School were able to draw on their longstanding food bank at the school which accepts donations from the community and allocates them to families in need. The school’s staff delivered some of those parcels directly, including to a family living in temporary accommodation some way from school.
In Worthing, staff at Downsbrook Primary established a Community Foodbank in March 2020 to support families in need. The project saw the school working closely with the local branch of the Co-Op and since then it has gone from strength to strength, supporting not only school families but the wider community too. Having now been run continuously for over a year, it continues to be an enormous success and is currently supporting 28 families regularly.
Some of our schools went further still. A team of Teaching Assistants at River Beach Primary School supplied food packages to families in need following the Government’s decision not to extend the Free School Meals programme over the 2020 October half-term, using Facebook to ask school families to contact her directly if they were concerned about feeding their children during the holidays. Several families got in touch, and 11 Teaching Assistants from the school delivered food throughout the week, using donations and help from across the school community.
As well as food worries, many families faced the unexpected challenge of needing to sort out IT at home to help with remote learning. During the last lockdown the Rustington team initiated a community campaign asking local people to donate laptops to support pupil learning. The school, which educates 600 children, called for local people and businesses to use Rustington as a base for recycling any old or unused laptops. The team at East Preston ran a similar scheme, which resulted in 20 donated devices from members of the public in the village, and school families adding seven brand new Chromebooks, enabling children who otherwise were reliant on old or shared technology - or none at all - to learn from home.
East Preston’s learning mentors also made several home visits during the lockdowns to support families, providing resources and enabling them to participate in remote learning. And the wider community stepped in too. One of the local estate agents, Matthews Anthony near Downsbrook Primary, offered to make printing facilities available to anyone who needed access to printed resources but didn't have a printer at home.
The help didn’t stop at food and IT. Edward Bryant, which has a strong presence in the Bognor Regis community, works closely with Grandad’s Front Room which stores donated school uniform for those in need. There is no set price and the system works on an honesty box. The East Preston team worked closely with a local pub whose landlady organised two collections with the school. One was for Christmas presents for families who were less likely to have much spare money for gifts. The other was a collection of good quality winter coats, which were displayed at school for anyone to help themselves to, supporting not just families whose children might otherwise have gone without, but also those for whom there were additional financial worries, perhaps because of a reduced income due to furlough.
As we move beyond the pandemic, our schools will continue to provide help to families, as they’ve always done, and signpost to other support as needed.