We would like to say a very big thank you to all the volunteers at Westminster Befriend a Family.
This year you have pulled out all the stops to help lend your support to vulnerable families in need of practical support, some direction to get them started on their chosen path, and helpful advice. You have mentored disadvantaged children and young people helping them see that they too can have a good future ahead of them. And you’ve helped in our office to keep all the records and admin in order.
We hope you enjoyed the Christmas party laid on in your honour and the raffle prizes as a treat.
MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all and wishing you, and all our vulnerable families and young people a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Originally from India, 23-year-old Roopa completed a Master’s Degree in Development Studies at the London School of Economics before becoming our volunteer event organiser and fundraising intern.
Why volunteer with Westminster Befriend a Family?
“I want to pursue a career in development studies hopefully working for a not-for-profit organisation or an NGO or any organisation that works directly with development issues,” she said. “I also wanted to get some experience of how the charitable sector works here. As WBAF works with vulnerable families and young people who are socially disadvantaged and living in poverty, this charity fits very well with the kind of career I am interested in.”
What do you do here as a volunteer?
“I work in the charity’s office researching potential sponsors and donors who will help the charity continue its work. It involves lots of online research finding out information on local businesses and the contact details of the people best placed to help us. So far I have made contact with about 200 businesses, hotels, restaurants, pubs and spas etc., and I’m hoping we can build up more relationships so they can help us in any way they can, whether it’s through direct donations or by providing raffle and auction prizes.
What have you learned from your experience?
“Volunteering has been really useful for expanding and improving my research, communication and organisational skills. I’ve been meeting and talking to all kinds of different people, explaining what we do and trying to gain their support. I’ve been able to gain a lot of invaluable experience. When I go back to India, working for organisations that don’t have much in the way of resources, these skills will be of great value.”
Roopa also believes the experience has helped her grow up. “Being here, in London, without my parents or any family around, I’ve had to take care of myself. I didn’t have any idea of how to navigate this place or about volunteering before, but now I do. It’s been like starting life from scratch at age 22. It’s made me grow up, be stronger and be much more independent,” she said.
Ali, 27, has been mentoring 17 year-old Joseph (not his real name), for five months. As one of Westminster Befriend a Family’s volunteers he plays a crucial role in helping Joe realise his potential. Joe doesn’t have his parents around, only his siblings. His family has been fractured and his background has been severely coloured by the whole experience.
What was Ali’s biggest challenge?
At first, Joe’s experiences made it hard for him to trust people, said Ali. “When I first met him, Joe found it very difficult to find the right words when trying to explain himself. He wasn’t doing anything with his life. He wasn’t in education, he wasn’t working. He never took anything seriously and, at such a young age, he had kind of given up on life. His background has been very difficult and I would say he was a bit ‘broken’ in a way. But soon he began to trust me and we developed a connection.”
What was the result of making that connection?
“Now, he’s taking things a little more seriously,” said Ali. “He enrolled in and is going to college, so he’s getting up and out of the house, at least. He’s able to explain himself more clearly and he’s grown in confidence. And while it’s still too soon to see where he is headed – there will be time for him to work that out later – he’s much more optimistic about his future than he was.”
How has mentoring Joe helped Ali?
Ali’s own life has benefited from his mentoring, too. Even though he has completed his studies in architecture and an internship at an architecture and design company, Ali still wasn’t sure of his abilities to be a mentor and to communicate clearly.
He said: “Now I feel I am a much better communicator. I am more confident in my abilities to show Joe, or any young person, a way forward than I was when I started. In the beginning I didn’t know whether what I was doing with him was helping or not. Five months on I see that my methods are working and that has made me much more certain of myself.”
More about our mentoring scheme
Westminster Befriend a Family’s mentoring and befriending programmes only last for six months at a time during which volunteers spend two to three hours on the same day every week building trust and lending their support. This way, families get the support they need while they take crucial steps forward. However, they are also given the space to manage their own future and become more self-reliant.
What’s next for Ali?
When Ali finishes his time with Joe, he’s considering being a mentor for another vulnerable young person, referred to Westminster Befriend a Family, who is in much need of support.
From all of us at Westminster Befriend a Family, thank you Ali for all your hard work and continued commitment to helping support vulnerable families in Westminster.
It is a well-known fact that London is an expensive city to live in, but what is lesser known is that the rents in the capital are increasing faster than anywhere else in the country. In London, the average age of a first time buyer is now 38 years old, which is higher than the national average.
In Westminster there is a chronic housing problem, caused by a lack of affordable housing. This has led to 30% of housing in Westminster being overcrowded, as defined by the government. This is the third highest rate of overcrowding in the country and is significantly higher than the London and England averages of 17% and 7% respectively.
In 2011 the average cost of renting a 3-bedroom property in Westminster was £700 per week, while the Housing Benefit for a 3 Bedroom property was capped at £340, meaning those without alternative sources of income or financial aid cannot sustain regular affordable rent payments.
The number of families accepted as “homeless” by Westminster council has increased by 86% between 2010/11 and 2012/13. Even so, only half of applications made were accepted in 2012/13. This is put down partially to applications that do not provide enough supporting evidence, demonstrating that applicants need help with applying.
Our befrienders offer services to alleviate stress that a family may be experiencing in terms of housing, alongside offering support with filling in housing benefit applications which is especially useful for those whose first language is not English.
Although the London housing crisis is not unknown, the severity of it is often underplayed so we need to #UncoverWestminster to raise awareness of the struggles that poverty presents in terms of housing and continue to build affordable homes throughout London so that every adult, child and family has somewhere that they can call ‘home’.
Only 27% of 16-year-olds on free school meals achieve A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 54% of their peers. This suggests that the over one million children who are eligible for free school meals because their family income is £16,040 or less, are more likely to do worse at school. These children are also less likely to go into further education; in 2007, only 6% went on to do A-levels, and out of 80,000 15-year-olds who claimed free school meals in 2002, only 45 made it to Oxbridge.
Westminster is particularly affected by child poverty, so it is no surprise that 34% of 19-year-olds in the borough lack level three academic qualifications, for example a-levels. In Westminster 40% of secondary school pupils receive free school meals. That is over twice the England average of 15% of pupils in all state secondary schools in 2011.
There is a cycle in which poverty as a child leads to lower educational achievement and lower educational achievement then leads to poverty as an adult. However, children who receive positive early education are less likely to experience the negative impacts of having parents out of work. Problematically though, children in low-income families are less likely to receive an early education. It has been found that families are the most important factor in determining a child’s educational achievement, which suggests that it is crucial for families to have access to the support needed to help them improve their children’s education. This support will improve children’s’ educational attainment, and then go on to improve future employment opportunities and quality of life. This is why at Westminster Befriend a Family we offer practical help with schoolwork and problems at school, as well as supporting parents; to try and break this cycle so that no more children, or adults, have to live in poverty.
In Westminster 71% of primary school pupils first language is not English, this is over four times the average in England. There is a clear agreement among education and linguistic experts that teaching in the language that children have used from birth, their mother tongue or first language, offers the best chance of educational success. This is why at Westminster Befriend a Family we offer children, and their parents, the chance to socialise in English through a range of weekly community-based sports, arts and educational projects. Evidence has been produced to indicate that where school language is not used in children’s daily lives, it can tip the balance towards total exclusion from learning; so we are aiming to help include English in their everyday lives so that every child can effectively make use of their right to an education and to end the poverty cycle.
This begins to show the importance of breaking the poverty cycle and the shocking impact that education can have on children from 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 reach their full potential during their education through receiving a positive education experience and being provided with the support they need to achieve their goals. Poverty is not just about a lack of money but also about a lack of opportunity.