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Building strong community links through the Covid-19 pandemic

May 4, 2021, 12:07 GMT+1
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  • Ann-Marie Bolton explains how supporting families during Covid-19 has built a deeper level of trust...
Building strong community links through the Covid-19 pandemic

The last year has been incredibly challenging, with our pupils, staff and parents adjusting to a completely different way of teaching, learning and living.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, our immediate priority was to ensure our teachers and pupils had the resources they needed to teach and learn from home. However, as the pandemic progressed, redundancies, isolation rules and furlough began to take their toll on our community.

In the Autumn term, we saw an increasing number of families in difficult circumstances struggling to make ends meet. Some of our key values include being a school where every child flourishes academically, emotionally, spiritually and morally and being a school that is at the heart of our community. We knew we had to do something to support our families.

Our brilliant Inclusion Team launched #LessnessCAN, our Community Action Network. We asked parents, staff and the local community to donate spare food, clothing and household products and we contacted our local supermarkets to see if they could also support us. From this, we set up our very own food bank.

Confidential communications with parents

Parents first send a confidential email to us and our Inclusion Team then contacts them to arrange support. We make sure our food bank is stocked up as much as possible with non-perishable food items including cereals, dried pasta and tinned foods as well as cleaning products, toiletries and new and pre-loved school uniforms.

Each week, we create food packages and a member of staff hand delivers them to 20 isolating households. As much as possible, we try to add items and ingredients that our isolating families can make together, like cake mix or fajitas boxes. We also have a weekly phone call with these families to arrange a time for delivery and see how they are coping.

Thanks to generous donations and our staff volunteering their time, we have been able to support some of our most vulnerable pupils and families in our community over the last three months.

We also supported one of our single parents who was unable to work due to the pandemic and had no money or food in the house. They said they felt ashamed but because of our strong relationship with our families, she reached out and we were able to immediately provide her with food and connect her to supporting services. She said: “I knew you would never judge me and would help me; I can’t thank you enough”.

During the Christmas period, we tried to make the holiday special for our families. Children were given advent calendars, Christmas jumpers and gifts for their families that they had either made themselves or personally selected. We also worked with Slade Green Food Bank to provide Christmas dinner, including fresh turkeys, which were delivered by staff on Christmas Eve.

Contact with the school community

It has been amazing to see our community come together and support one another. Our parents are grateful that someone is listening to them and working to support them.

As a result, we have strengthened our relationships with our families, especially with those often less involved in school life, by developing trust and establishing consistent and regular contact. Not only have we built greater relations with our families, but we now have important connections with local businesses and supermarkets, meaning we can continue to support our families in the months to come.

Most of all though, setting up the food bank has meant we can keep our most vulnerable pupils fed and clothed. In turn, they are in a better position to learn and build the skills and confidence they need to achieve their potential.

Ann-Marie Bolton is headteacher at Lessness Heath Primary School, part of The Primary First Trust.