Written by Jane Babbage – from esure, project co-ordinator for this campaign.
In the week I was helping to collect food for the local food bank at work, in my personal life I was kitting out my 4 year old for his first day at school. This made we wonder…
“If parents are struggling to buy something as critical as food for their family, how on earth are they managing to buy school essentials?”
- Imagine you are a child, excited and a bit nervous about starting a new year at school.
- Your parents have fallen on hard times which is a bit worrying in itself.
- You know you will need school supplies, but you’re anxious as there is no money to buy these.
- You are keen to fit in and scared of others noticing you have no money.
- What will you say if others ask you where your bag and pens are?
Seeing my son’s excited face when he saw his bag, water bottle and other essentials got me thinking…
Many of us had an average childhood where money wasn’t available by the bucket-load but it wasn’t so scarce that we went without. I’m sure most people can remember being bought a new bag or the latest snazzy pencil tin, and how excited they were to show it off at school on Monday. Two years of appeals has shown us that for children in poverty this feeling is many times magnified.
I’d been involved with Stripey Stork for some time and knew how they worked with local support services to help vulnerable families in the local community. I knew that they had the network and volunteers to bring a project like this to life, so I approached them with my idea and the Bags4School campaign was born!
Bags4School provides children with a school bag, pencil case, colouring pencils, calculator etc. tailored to the age and gender of the child. The contents also provide children with the tools that they need to do their homework as not everyone has access to such items at home. School bags for primary school children cost on average £15 to put together, a school bag for a secondary school child costs from £25.
To be eligible for a bag, a child needs to be referred to Stripey Stork by a healthcare professional, teacher, social worker, GP etc. who will be responsible for collecting the bag(s) and passing them on to the children.
Now in it’s third year, the feedback from this project has been incredible. To date we have provided over 346 school bags to children in and around Redhill, Merstham and Reigate. Teachers, parents and children all tell us what a difference it has made. One example was of a boy who had been absent from school a lot, the school were aware that his family were experiencing financial difficulties and they put him forward to receive a bag. Three months later they were delighted to report that he hadn’t missed a single day!
One Mum, who posted on Facebook after seeing the previous year’s appeal, wrote:“I will never forget my daughter’s face when she received her rucksack. Forever grateful xx.”
Here’s some feedback from one of our referral partners on what the school bags mean to the children:“We have a high proportion of pupil premium in the school and have many families that, although working still struggle financially on low wages. The parents really appreciate the local support but most of all to see the faces of the children light up like it is Christmas was the most delightful moment.”
On the face of it this bag is just a bag of school supplies, but in reality it’s much much more:
- It’s an opportunity for children in poverty to help themselves;
- It’s a sign that whilst things are tough now, they can be better;
- It’s the realisation that school is something they can have a stake in;
- It’s the comfort that others are truly rooting for them;
- It’s knowing that with the right tools and hard work they deserve to be a success; and
- It’s a chance to show everyone what they are made of.
As one referral partner told us:“One family was left completely speechless – I still see the little ones proudly walking in with their school bags. Some of the children really do have next to nothing so the things you provide are so important as they get to feel proud. Very often these are the families that will never ask for help but I can always tell they needed it in the first place. Their reactions are so priceless…”
The word ‘proud’ is one we hear time and time again – the children are proud of their bags and take pride in their schoolwork.
Another referral commented in response to one of our social media posts: “I’ve seen your back to school back packs filled with stationery be the difference between a child who can’t face school so bunks off and gets into trouble with anti-social behaviour and the same child who starts school with their peers! Your service is an absolute life changer for the children and families you help.”
Who knows, those who have benefited most from the Bags4School appeal and made a success of themselves, may well become donors and advocates for future appeals, thus helping to break the cycle of poverty – not just now but for future generations.
If you work for a school and would like to refer pupils to receive bags, please email [email protected].
You can download a copy of our campaign flyer here.