If the recent political debates have shown anything, it's the stark contrast in this country between the haves and the have-nots. The economic divide is getting wider and whilst there are many in the UK who are thriving and living comfortable lives, there are also many who are not.
Often it's the children who suffer the most, forced to live in squalid conditions, sometimes even dangerous conditions.
What kind of a childhood would it be to live here? Bare floorboards, a dirty mattress for a bed, no bed covers, a dirty sheet nailed to the window for a curtain, no natural light...
I've been called to action. It's no use just moaning about these injustices, it's time to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Kiddicare has joined forces with the charity Kids Company to make a real and practical difference to families lives with the Colour a Child's Life campaign. They have invited me along as a volunteer for a day with one of their families, to help renovate 2 children's rooms.
It's not just about having a nicely decorated home to live in. This kind of fresh start can be a real catalyst for change. Often the poor living conditions can exacerbate health problems, impact on self-esteem and confidence, impact on school attendance and performance and a whole host of other knock-on effects.
Children are reliant on those who care for them to create a safe, clean and nurturing home environment. Sadly, lots of parents are unable to sustain an appropriate standard of care due to poverty, mental health difficulties or substance misuse.
These children and their families are living in local authority accommodation where social work departments are at breaking point and demand outweighs resources, leaving children in chronic poverty and neglect. Often young people leaving the care system are given their own flat, only to find that it is barely habitable.
Kids Company's Colour a Child's Life campaign has worked with many families such as the Barton family.
When Kids Company staff first visited the Barton family’s flat they were unable to see the floor underneath a mass of clutter. Each room was dirty and disorganised. Paul, who had just turned eight, rarely left his bedroom. He spent most of his time lying on a thin, battered mattress watching TV.
The light was permanently shut out by an old duvet cover that was nailed over the window frame. The walls in his room were saturated in damp and mould due to an external leak – the probable cause for his asthma. His sister Veronica, who was eleven, had a slightly better bedroom, yet it had not been decorated during her lifetime and was covered in woodchip wallpaper which had yellowed. Veronica had written her name in thick marker pen next to a small love heart she’d drawn. A series of fist marks were indented into her bedroom door.
During the Colour a Child’s Life intervention it became known that Paul had less than a 30 per cent school attendance. Both he and his sister survived almost exclusively on high sugar snacks including Coke Cola, biscuits and chocolate bars. The children’s mother, Sue, suffered with learning difficulties and struggled to offer the care her children required. Nether child had ever met their father. When a CaCL was suggested to the family, they became slightly unsettled. They’d become used to their chaotic environment.
In just two days, volunteers and Kids Company staff were able to perform a total transformation. With careful consideration, the clutter was sent to the skip. The damp and mould was treated, the leak repaired and the broken door replaced. Each room was decorated with a colour scheme chosen by the family. Flat-pack furniture was assembled including new beds and chests of drawers. Carpets were installed and soft furnishings put in place.
During the renovation reveal, Veronica screamed and ran into her bedroom. Paul didn’t say anything, but walked over to the window and drew the curtains a few times. Sue was delighted and thanked each volunteer for “the kindest thing to ever happen.”
Kids Company’s support to the Barton family is ongoing. Both Paul and Veronica take part in art therapy and attend their Arches II centre in Camberwell.
With corporate partner Kiddicare, Kids Company will assess the needs of the family, and staff who specialise in cleaning, decorating and carpentry are assisted in renovating the home by volunteers. New furniture and soft furnishing is provided, damp issues addressed, decorating completed and a safe, vibrant environment is delivered to the family, with their input on what they'd like.
Thousands of children, young people and their families have benefited from Kids Company’s Colour a Child’s Life program, gaining confidence, self-esteem and a greater sense of stability. The effect on their daily lives is never short of remarkable.
Kids Company’s Colour a Child’s life project is uniquely effective in its service delivery. The team is innovative and flexible in their approach, and each project is tailor made to meet the needs of the family or young person involved.
So, in a couple of weeks time, I'll be donning overalls and rolling up my sleeves in the hope that my small part will help make a difference to a child's life. Hopefully we'll see some amazing transformations like this.
Check back in a few weeks time for a progress update.
Thanks to Kiddicare for inviting me.