At the end of another highly unusual school year, we have once again witnessed primary and secondary schools across the diocese living their faith and acting in a whole host of imaginative ways to bring Christ to their communities.
There are now at least 10 schools in the diocese which have a food bank or food delivery project, from Hackney to Hatfield from Tower Hamlets to Harlesden. Some of these are open every day, providing not only a lifeline to struggling families, but a constant reminder to pupils and staff of their wider purpose as Catholic Schools in serving the community.
A group of Teaching Assistants at St Elizabeth’s Catholic Primary School in Bethnal Green, have been running a “pop-up kitchen”. Every Friday, including during the school holidays they spend the afternoon making up bags of food, including fresh fruit and vegetables. This food is provided to anyone who needs help, including school families, staff, and members of the local community.
The foodbank is slowly expanding and our Development Worker, Minet Masho, has helped link them with the Tower Hamlets Hub which provides food, and other organisations which provide other essentials like toiletries and nappies. More than 50 bags are given out each week and the need is growing. The volunteers have been surprised how many recipients are from working families who are still feeling financial strains.
Deputy Headteacher Tracy Jennings said “We could not possibly run without the support of our dedicated TAs and support staff”
The foodbank provides a little social interaction and community solidarity among those who use it. When Barbara, an elderly lady who used the service, died recently, the school staff reached out to her son, who now also uses the foodbank on occasion.
Mrs Jennings said: “Barbara was a local resident who worked in the local school as a dinner lady for many years. She loved visiting the pop up kitchen to see what we would surprise her with in her bag. She often said she came for the company too. We are planning to celebrate Barbara’s memory and bring our service users together for an afternoon tea next year.
We are very grateful to Caritas for supporting us to get this project off the ground and to the suppliers and volunteers who deliver the food donations to us weekly. We have been running for over a year now and we hope to continue supporting the wider community for as long as it is needed.”
Newman Catholic College, whose deputy head won an award for the work she did setting up their foodbank, is once again running the Syria Summer camp in the coming weeks of the school holidays. This is a project aimed at welcoming refugee children and giving them a boost, helping them integrate and settle into their new schools.
The pupils and staff of Holy Family Primary School in Acton have reached out to give hope to older people across London, in two imaginative ways in the past year or so.
Linking with the Irish Chaplaincy they made Christmas and Easter cards to send to older people. 500 cards have been made since Spring 2020 for over 200 people, living alone and in care homes. The feedback from the recipients has truly shown the impact of this initiative:
“It was so nice to receive a card with my name on it. The children have given me so much joy.”
“It was like Santa Claus came early to our nursing home. The cards are all over our walls and they brought so much joy to our residents. Please pass on our thanks to the children.”
“The card was gorgeous! There was so much effort put into it. It has pride of place on my mantlepiece”
Keen to reach out more to these vulnerable older people, the children have walked a combined total of 500 miles around their playground in April, to support the work of the Irish Chaplaincy’s Walk with Hope initiative. This is the distance from their school to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland. The children even recorded their own music video, to promote their fundraising based on the Proclaimers song “500 Miles”
A growing number of schools in the diocese are running the Caritas Ambassadors programme which aims to equip pupils with a strong understanding of Catholic Social Teaching and how we can put it into action in our daily lives.
Six schools set out on the Ambassadors programme this year, despite the difficulties posed by Covid lockdowns and social distancing. One of them was St John Fisher Primary School in St Albans.
After learning about the work of Caritas and getting a good in-depth knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching, the small group of Caritas Ambassadors worked together to create two projects:
Their first project was ‘Postcards of Kindness’. The Ambassadors encouraged every child in their school to write and decorate a postcard. They spoke at assemblies, designed and hung posters, and even created PowerPoint presentations that were shared in classes to promote their project. Practically every family gave in a postcard (some giving several). They were then sent to a number of local care homes to help ease the loneliness and isolation the residents felt during the pandemic.
Their second project aims to send help further afield. The Ambassadors will be selling ‘Cookies in a Jar’ after school (these are jars of dry ingredients, to which wet ingredients are added at home). The money raised will be sent to an orphanage in Tanzania.
Frances Moore, Development Worker for South Herts, met the children when she presented them with their certificates and badges. She said “The Caritas Ambassadors team are an enthusiastic and positive group of young people; full of ideas and eagerness to help their local community and people abroad.”
Their teacher, Sally Hines, had this to say:
‘Despite challenging circumstances for everyone this year, the children have remained committed throughout and are delighted to be moving forward with their projects! We are very proud of them!’
Meanwhile children at Our Lady Catholic Primary School in Hitchin also spent time learning about Catholic Social Teaching, especially the importance of dignity, community participation and social inclusion.
The Caritas Westminster Development Worker there, Liz Wills, told them about a project under development: having co-ordinated the delivery of thousands of food parcels to families who have been directly impacted by the pandemic. Liz is setting up a community pantry which is a type of social supermarket with the support of Feed Up Warm Up and the local Parish of Hitchin. This will be a place for families to buy food at highly affordable prices whilst also rescuing good food from landfill – helping the environment. This project will help break families’ reliance on hand-outs and give them the dignity of being able to shop and choose for themselves.
The year 4 class learnt about this project, and how it aims to strengthen their local community. They each designed a poster, choosing a name for the pantry and highlighting the hope and welcome that will be found there.
There are deprived areas across the whole of Westminster Diocese, and teachers are often the first to be aware when a family is struggling. Fifty-three schools – that’s a quarter of all Catholic Schools in the diocese, have been handing out supermarket vouchers to families in need. Caritas Westminster has been able to fund these vouchers, which have also gone to 70 parishes. Another batch of vouchers was sent yesterday, enabling schools to continue providing support over the summer holidays, bringing the total provided in this school year alone to £74,310.
By engaging closely with Caritas Westminster, schools are able to access our resources: not only Caritas Ambassadors, but also the Road to Resilience programme which will enable staff and volunteers to support people in their communities to take steps out of reliance and towards resilience. For example, Staff from five schools are currently taking part in our Firm Foundations financial capability programme, using their new skills and information to assist families in various ways. A new cohort, from parishes as well as schools, will begin training in the autumn – please contact Silvana Dallanegra for more information.
This term, four schools nominated a Caritas Representative from among their staff, to be the main contact to find out how Caritas Westminster can support them as they teach about, and act on, their Christian faith. If your school would like to know more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schools across the diocese have risen incredibly to the challenge that Covid-19 brought, both within and outside the classroom, with staff and students going way above the call of duty. We know we can expect great things of all these schools in the future, and hope that all staff and students have a restful summer break.