Sarah is originally from Afghanistan. A mother of two sons, Ahmed and Abdullah, she has benefited from a range of support services from Westminster Befriend a Family (WBAF), including emotional support and help with translating and reading of documents.
Recently WBAF helped Sarah get funding for some essential household items. She had a leaky washing machine so was unable to use it, and a bed with broken slats and a mattress with protruding springs, so she regularly slept on the floor against her doctor’s advice. Deteriorating living conditions often meant sleepless nights and mounting stress, which in turn affected the well-being of her sons.
With the help of WBAF’s befriending volunteer, Sarah was able to apply for a grant to purchase a new washing machine and one new mattress, used by her eldest son. Less than she needed but hugely appreciated. It has gone a long way to reducing her stress and lifting her mood.
“Nobody has helped me like WBAF,” she said, and WBAF continues to help Sarah and her family help themselves.
It should shape our youth, provide them with opportunities, and help them take control of their lives. It should provide them with the chance to compete on an equal playing field, where success is determined by merit, rather than by circumstances outside their control. Most importantly, it should provide young people with hope: hope that they can make a place for themselves in the world, hope that they can change the way things are, and hope that they can play a part in creating a better future.
But that is the ideal.
This is the reality:
Household income, geographical location, and ethnicity are all factors outside a youth’s control; nevertheless, they are all factors that have been linked to educational attainment. Social Market Foundation (2016) has found that family income is a strong predictor of educational performance, regional disparities in education have increased over time, and there are significant disparities in educational attainment across ethnic groups. Young people from less privileged backgrounds also tend to have vastly different experiences in the education system: they are more likely to feel a lack of control towards their learning, are less likely to experience as rich a set of experiences in the classroom, and are much more likely to have their confidence undermined through their experiences at school (Hirsch, 2007).
But the picture does not have to be so dismal. Research has also shown that access to higher education increases social mobility, and that it may be effective to work with less advantaged youths to help them increase their sense of confidence and help them take control of their learning process (Iannelli & Paterson, 2005; Hirsch, 2007). What this means is that it may not be enough to simply place less advantaged young people in the education system and hope that it turns out for the best; some may need extra attention to get them past these hurdles and onto a better track that will bring them towards their long-term goals.
It is for this reason that Westminster Befriend A Family has recently launched a Broadening Horizons project to provide academic and vocational advice to young people aged 13+. The goal of this project is not to be yet another voice telling less advantaged youths what to do. Instead, the aim is to empower youths, help them develop a sense of confidence in their own abilities, and reveal to them just what they are truly capable of achieving. It is a partnership where trained mentors will guide, motivate and support the young person to formulate and put into action plans for education and careers. Mentors may, for instance, bring the young person to visit a university campus, or they may help the young person explore other routes to employment such as learning a trade or applying for an apprenticeship. Our goal is to open up possibilities and help youths to discover just what they can achieve, despite the many challenges posed by an often hostile environment.
The attainment gap created by our country’s education system is growing. Many young people feel let down and disillusioned by the opportunities available to them. There is no easy or quick fix to readdress this balance. A great amount of work is needed to reform policy and improve the education structure in the UK. However, this also means there is a current need for improved educational services from within the third sector. The fact that the education system is imperfect means that it is all the more important that we persevere in trying to remedy this situation. Services must grow to ensure that every young person has a fairer shot at making their own aspirations a reality. Through this education can go a long way in helping to shape a better future for our society.
Hirsch, Donald. 2007. “Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage.” Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ref 2123.
Iannelli, C. & Paterson, L. (2005). “Does Education Promote Social Mobility?”
Social Market Foundation. (2016). “Educational Inequalities in England and Wales: Commission on Inequality in Education.”
Title of the article is a quote from Nelson Mandela.
A recent poll showed that one in six people worldwide want to move to London for work. As for so many people London is seen as the city of opportunity. It offers an amazing array interesting jobs, spectacular homes, unforgettable entertainment, countless activities, incredible food and endless things to do; on the surface it appears there are no reasons not to love London life. But for so many living in the city, this could not be further from the truth.
London has the highest child poverty rate in the country; it contains 10 of the top 20 constituencies with the highest child poverty rates in the UK. Reasons for living in poverty vary, but rising living costs, job loss or benefit changes are often key factors.
Living in poorer conditions can affect childhood, as growing up in poverty increases the chances of young people being cold, hungry and unable to join in the activities in which their peers are involved. For example, ‘60% of families in the bottom income quintile would like, but cannot afford, to take their children on holiday for one week a year’, demonstrating how poverty can diminish the opportunities available to young people.
There have been cuts throughout the country in recent years, and these have had a huge impact on families in Westminster. In the 2014/2015 budget Children’s Centres lost £474,000, Youth Services were cut by £125,000 and Play Services faced a loss of £152,000 of funding. In the 2015/16 cabinet report the Westminster council announced £36 million worth of cuts to the budget, with the youth budget being cut to zero. This has diminished the opportunities available to young people in Westminster.
At Westminster Befriend a Family we aim to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged families in Westminster and one way we do this is through offering a wealth of opportunities to isolated and disadvantaged children. In the past we have organised trips to the seaside and the zoo, activities such as picnics and Christmas parties. For many children, these are rare opportunities to join in the leisurely activities that their peers are involved in, and for some, these trips offer a rare chance to leave London.
Our community activities, such as swimming and martial art lessons provide opportunities for disadvantaged children. For many of the children this is the only activity they take part in each week. Every child deserves the right to hobbies.
“My daughters waits for Thursday, she begs me to go! It is very important for our children and for us as parents. It is the time when we meet and have a chat”
This begins to show the importance of opportunities for disadvantaged families, we need to #UncoverWestminster to raise awareness of these issues and to make sure every person, adult and child alike, has the chance to experience London as a city of opportunities.
90% of organisations in the voluntary sector are small or medium sized charities. Despite making up such a large percentage of the sector the work that they do often goes unnoticed by many. Research commissioned by TSB, and reported in the Guardian (13/06/16), shows that small charities miss out on donations due to small profiles. However, as small and medium sized charities we are more and more involved in plugging gaps in local service provision than many of our larger partners in the sector. We at Westminster Befriend a Family are a charity set-up by local people, for local people. We draw a large proportion of funding and support from the local area and local business. Maintaining our profile is a direct result of diligent work by our volunteers nurturing links with the local community. In a borough like Westminster this is particularly hard owing to the transience of residents and local workers.
At a time when trust in charities is low, small charities go against the trend by staying close to their core mission and strengthening their roots in the local community. What small charities lack in size we make up with the strength of our networks. These are our greatest assets. They allow us great insight into the issues affecting our service users. Our locally based, high quality networks grant us the knowledge to do our jobs effectively and efficiently. As a part of a local community we can respond to needs as they emerge, helping to improve community cohesion and bring people closer together. Another advantage, that we as small charities have is our ability to reach those who are hardest to reach. This comes from a combination of our deep local knowledge and our approachability. We are not intimidating behemoths, but approachable, human organisations.
Despite the advantages of our small size, there are severe draw backs, our size makes robust data gathering and competitive tendering hard when facing huge charities with dedicated departments. Our strong ties to our local area make maintaining a large profile difficult and as noted above make fundraising a struggle. These difficulties are what makes weeks like Small Charity Week so important. It gives us the platform to make our voice heard and to raise our profile. Small charities are a crucial point of local knowledge and support, but we need support too.
It’s Monday morning and I have escaped the curse of the crack of dawn blues by way of the sun piercing through my window and blazing its rays onto my face. I find myself in in that heady state where you can almost slightly fool yourself into believing that you are in a foreign country where the sun is an ever present friend.
The sound of Bob Marley’s “Sun Is Shining” begins as I start my walk towards the train station. Once I arrive the hustle and bustle of people intensifies as the rush to get to their varied destinations becomes their only focus. The rose tinted glasses that had guided me on my journey up until this point are about to be altered to a darker shade of grey. I take out one of my headphones.
The platform is overcrowded and the train is running late. The cost of train fares continue to rise while the quality of service maintains a steady flow of free fall. Looking up at the digital time table the general feeling amongst the swelling crowd is one of simmering rage resulting in anger being hurled toward this innocent innominate object in the form of steely glares. A sea of eyes watch the right hand corner of the digital display that shows the expected arrival time for the delayed train and it seems to be escalating frequently, which is then greeted by a crescendo of sighs and kissed teeth.
By the time I catch the first glimpse of the train heading towards me (20 minutes late due to a “signal failure”) I realise that there are only three carriages, and you don’t have to be Einstein to work out there is a about to be a square peg being forced into a round hole situation about to go down.
I take out my remaining headphone and press pause.
Knocking on the carriage window I gestured to a deliberately oblivious passenger in my best dramatic sign language (ok maybe I raised my voice slightly) to convey to them that if they wouldn’t mind moving forward just a couple of paces it would enable more people to get on. My suggestion was met with compliance by the passenger although done with subtle displeasure. The crowd around me cheer my affirmative action and we proceeded to squeeze onto the train.
Once on the train I find myself in an uncomfortable position that stretches the parameters of my idea of personal space to their very limits. Not only do I have the pleasure of someone’s hair in my face, I also have the added bonus of being underneath the hovering arm of a man who did not have the “Lynx effect”.
Today it seems many people are in such a rush that they forget to take the time to consider others.
“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”
By just one person addressing the situation and another taking a few steps forward it allowed many more passengers to get onto the train. When you live in a busy city, time is of the essence and sometimes you can rush past people who are in need without taking them into consideration. Whether it’s the busker singing their heart out or the pregnant woman who needs help carrying her buggy down the stairs it really does not take much to give them a bit of our time. When people pull together life’s journey becomes a far less arduous one.
Headphones back in my ears, I press play……
“To the rescue, here I am”
Tyrone Wright Writer and musician
Every Second Counts is a campaign run by Westminster Befriend a Family (WBAF) to raise funds to provide practical help and support to disadvantaged families in Westminster who are unable to cope with the debilitating problems they are going through.