The canteen in Bristol Futures Academy is a hub of activity one recent Wednesday as staff work to pack boxes of essential supplies and educational resources.
Each week since lockdown began, they have coordinated the mass operation to get the boxes delivered to families struggling to make ends meet – but that’s just where the efforts to ensure no one gets left behind starts.
The academy in Barton Hill is part of Snowdon Village, a ‘family’ of schools that sit within the Cabot Learning Federation and provide alternative provision for students who have been unsuccessful in mainstream education or have specific learning needs.
Staff were all too aware of the difficulties facing many households during the pandemic – from lack of internet access to challenges accessing the benefits system – and quickly rallied to bridge the gaps and provide support for those in need.
“The first thing we did was look at putting together care packages to cover the essentials,” says Kay Sarpong, the centre lead at Bristol Futures Academy, which never fully shut during lockdown and opened more widely on June 1.
“The whole team started getting in contact with parents to talk about which families have access to the internet and which need care packages. We knew it was a sensitive subject, but we also knew that many families were struggling. 80 per cent of our students are entitled to free school meals so we set up the school canteen as a hub to do some of this work.”
Initially, all of the packages were put together using the limited resources of the school and staff, but Futures Academy has since teamed up with FareShare South West, meaning they have been able to double the amount of food delivered.
The packages include cosmetics, such as toiletries and sanitary products, personalised reading books, crafts materials and other paper-based resources, food, rewards for completing work and support navigating the benefits systems.
“Teachers have been doing one-to-one mentoring and we have managed to get hold of some laptops to deliver to students who didn’t have one,” continues Kay.
“It’s exploring all avenues as to how we keep them safe and maintain some consistency because they are at risk of being the ones that are left behind. We are doing all we can to make sure they are getting the same level of support as their peers.”
He says one of the real positives to come out of the last few months is how much the school team has been able to develop and improve relationships with both students and parents – many of whom have not had the best experiences of mainstream education.
“One of our biggest priorities is how we bridge the gap,” adds Kay. “We have all managed to come together as a community and we have the opportunity to carry that on.
“We will continue to support those who are more vulnerable and ensure they do not get left behind. We are not able to solve the world’s problems but where we are able to, we are doing everything we can.”
Many parents have written to the school team to thank them for their support throughout such a difficult time.
A message from one parent read: “I want to thank you for the thoughtful package of food items, snacks and toilet roll that you so kindly put together for her. I’m not going to lie, when I closed the door, I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as this really touched our heart.
“The thoughtfulness and kindness of you and your staff is amazing and you are all a inspiration to your students. Honestly, I am completely speechless.”
Alex Davies, the principal of Snowdon Village, says she is immensely proud of how the staff and students have adapted to a new way of working.
She says: “One of our core values is ‘love’ and we talk about needing to care for our children and making them feel cared for. Many of our children have experienced trauma in their lifetime and for some children, who might be cooped up in a one-bedroom flat with four or five siblings and no food in the house, this is another trauma they are experiencing. It’s important we are there for them to support them through this time, academically but also emotionally.
“Getting their basic needs met is part of our duty to safeguard them and our staff have been working day and night to ensure our children are safe and have the resources they need at this difficult time. We miss our children and look forward to welcoming them all back when it is fully safe to do so.”
All photos by Ellie Pipe