One year on…Brixton family work update

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Showing love to make peace

At CHIPS, we know that poverty and inequality are two of the key drivers of division and violence. Since spring last year, we’ve therefore been working hard to support some of the most vulnerable families in Brixton, Lambeth and neighbouring boroughs with the challenges they face due to the pandemic.

CHIPS Director Andrew Jackson explains: “Our aim is to show God’s love in practical ways by giving them a helping hand with their immediate needs, while helping to reduce some of the pressures that cause division and support a more peaceful community when the pandemic is over.”

Our emergency funding finished at the end of October. “But thanks to the infrastructure we put in place last year and our network of fantastic volunteers, we’re continuing to support as many families as possible, even with our limited resources” says CHIPS Volunteer Co-Ordinator Zehra Hussain.

She adds that we’ve now worked with more than 70 families on issues from debt, hardship and food poverty; to digital exclusion and general isolation; and mental health and wellbeing.

From broken beds to no hot food

Bev, our Family Support Worker, shares a few of her stories from the frontline.

She’s helped a parent who lost income from both their part-time jobs due to the pandemic on the same day and given advice on employment and bills. When she discovered multiple children sleeping in one room on a broken bed, she and volunteer sourced a new one, loaded it into a people carrier and delivered it. In a similar vein, several families have been unable to cook hot food or wash clothes during the winter due to broken appliances they can’t afford to replace, and the team has successfully helped them to win grants to buy replacements.

Bev has also been shocked to learn just how many schoolchildren are unable to access online learning – for example one family with three kids desperately trying to do their online learning on mum’s mobile phone because they have no laptop or broadband – and we’ve helped them by providing equipment ourselves or signposting them to other sources of support.

Meanwhile our volunteer Jasmina, in particular, has worked with mums trapped in domestic abuse during lockdown and supported them emotionally and practically to make their escape.

Bringing a smile

Every family, and every week, is different. But sometimes a little support can go a long way. Even just listening can make a big difference – providing a friendly ear and a virtual shoulder to cry on when there is nobody else to hear their worries and stresses. “There’s a lot of loneliness right now and some people only have CHIPS to speak to” Bev explains. At other times, little things such as delivering emergency food parcels during school holidays or a little treat on birthdays can bring a smile and turn a struggling family’s week around.

“In other cases, the challenges families are facing are multi-layered and more complex”, Bev adds. “We’ve come across children with special needs or who have been excluded without any educational support and need help and advocacy as they navigate multiple agencies. We’ve met several families stuck in unhealthy and overcrowded, damp and mice-infested homes during lockdown who face a challenging process with their local authorities to get on a list for rehousing.”

“We can’t provide all the specialist support ourselves so we feel really blessed to be part of a network of great local partner organisations that we can signpost people to” she says – for example, Black Minds Matter and Talk Counselling Services who provide mental health and therapy support.

An enduring challenge

Sometimes the pain and distress can be hard to observe. “But it’s been our privilege to get to know these families and it’s so fulfilling to be able to bring light to their darkness in practical ways” says Zehra. “And thankfully, we’ve seen a number of families get back on their feet during the year, as we’ve helped parents search for new jobs, access the support they need on payment holidays, or find the therapy they need.”

Many families have moved off our “red” list and no longer require a weekly call – a quick monthly check-in is now enough. But at the same time, some families who were “green” during last spring’s lockdown have turned “amber” or “red”. “Other families were only ‘just about coping’ before and have now reached breaking point as the pandemic drags on,” Zehra explains.

During February, CHIPS took part in a campaign called ‘South London Listens’, organised by Citizens UK and others. This seeks to learn more about the challenges that are putting pressure on the wellbeing of people in BAME and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and then develop a two-year action plan in response.

As Bev concludes: “This pandemic isn’t over, not by a long shot, and many families are going to need support for a long time.”