“Really quickly it was clear there was a health crisis...a poverty crisis. People were struggling to know what on earth to do, how to feed families at home, support their kids, keep them safe, keep them happy and help them learn, while worrying about their own jobs and circumstances”
Oval Learning began more than 10 years ago as an informal cluster of schools in North Lambeth, working together to share ideas and resources to benefit children, parents and staff. They registered as a charity in 2014 and now support a network of more than 15 primary, secondary and special schools.
As the Covid 19 crisis spread in March 2020, the charity was well positioned to help schools adapt and fill gaps in provision. With many becoming de-facto community hubs for services and support, Oval Learning developed a plan to work across school clusters and roll out their ’Community Connector’ project throughout Lambeth. More details can be found below by clicking on the Read More button .
“The Walcot support meant we're constantly brokering, looking for partnerships, making sure that resources aren't just sitting in one place”
In partnership with other school clusters, the project was able to reach more than 4500 families, across 50 different settings. They utilised each school's knowledge of their families to target food, technology, art supplies, therapy, emergency grants and other services where they were most needed.
“There's a really brilliant ecosystem in Lambeth. Lots of people mucking in....help with laptops, help with food. But we wanted to make sure that it is getting to the people that actually needed it”
The `Community Connector’ project was envisaged as the glue to bind communities together; listening, signposting and connecting organisations, services, volunteers and families. Oval Learning recognised quickly that a donation of a computer to a family may be useless if they can't pay their electricity bill and thus focused on identifying and plugging the gaps in provision by mapping their extended school networks.
“Very quickly, people were saying it's not just about online stuff and looking at a computer but actually it's about being able to do practical things at home as well...so it was lovely being able to deliver art supplies”
In May 2020 the London Community Response Fund was able to provide a grant of £31,900 to further boost the size and scope of this project, increasing capacity by 40% at the height of lockdown. Jointly funded by the Walcot Foundation and City Bridge Trust, the grant helped create a ‘menu’ of crucial services combined with a strategy of communication and feedback with Heads, Teachers and school staff that provided a pathway to those most in need. Additionally, the grant funded training to ensure key members of school staff were better prepared to support children suffering from trauma, bereavement and severe anxiety related to lockdown experiences.
“We'd have small grants available as part of the fund, helping people when they couldn't focus on anything else because they just needed to feed the meter”
In 12 weeks, the Community Connectors were able to support 1000 families to access additional food supplies, distributed 337 packs of arts and crafts materials, provided 64 families with new devices for schoolwork, supplied 35 emergency ‘top ups’ for items such as electricity/internet costs and helped 5 families struggling to cope with lockdown to access therapeutic services. Further to this they were appointed a referral partner for the British Red Cross Hardship Fund, providing cash grants to 39 families with no recourse to public funds, at risk of homelessness or fleeing domestic violence. This helped some of the most vulnerable parents retain a sense of agency and control over their lives at a daunting time when they were struggling to access household essentials.
“Because we had a relationship [with Walcot] we felt respected, trusted and supported to get on with it...that was a feeling that we were able pass on to everybody else in the system, which meant people were so much more open to collaborating”
Following completion of the project an Oval Learning survey found two-third of parents had a better relationship with school staff after lockdown and 99% said the experience will make them more involved in their child's learning in the future, suggesting that alongside meeting significant immediate need the project will also have a longer-term legacy. Oval Learning now hope that others (including policy makers and funders) will begin to see the untapped potential of ‘school-led’ systems of support and recognise the important role that schools, school staff and school leaders play in our community.
Quotes from Lucy Swanson, Director of Oval Learning Cluster.
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