A while ago I told you about the Colour A Child's Life Campaign with Kids Company. Kiddicare the children's retailer have teamed up as corporate partners, and one of their commitments is to go, as a staff team, to volunteer their time to renovate rooms for young people in need of support.
I was honoured to be invited along, not just to see the project and spread the word, but to roll my sleeves up and do something practical for a change.
I can't tell you what a sense of achievement I came away with that day. It was so good to be able to offer some practical help and to be able to make a real, tangible difference - albeit maybe seemingly small - to someones life.
The young mum we were working with had been identified by the charity as being in need of support. She had a (completely adorable) one year old daughter herself, and had not had her own permanent home since the child was born. Brought up herself in foster care, but now classed as an adult, support from the state was lacking. Kids Company have been working with her for a while, helping her to turn her life around and are supporting her to study and gain some qualifications so she can get a job to support her young daughter. She's been sleeping on sofas at family and friends houses, but unfortunately she was recently exposed to a violent incident in one of the houses, and it was deemed no longer safe to stay there.
She'd been given emergency housing by the local authority in the form of a one-bedroom flat. I have to say, personally I don't think it was fit for a young baby to live in in the state it was presented to her. The floors were bare, there were some sharp nails sticking out which we removed - hardly appropriate for a young crawling baby.
The bedroom they'd have to share was shabby with patches of damp around the windows. Paper was peeling off the walls, it was dark and dreary and not somewhere you'd want to bring up your child. There was no furniture, and as a young single mum with little funds it looked like a mountain too far to climb to make this a warm, safe and welcoming home by herself.
Luckily the team from Kids Company have done this before and they assembled a crack team of staff together with Kiddicare staff and bloggers (myself, Mari from Maris World, Gail Ann from Mumma G and Simone from The Bottom of the Ironing Basket).
We had one day to transform this room before the young family were due to move in. We were against the clock and there was a lot to do to transform it from this.
Wallpaper was stripped. Holes filled. Woodwork sanded. Walls painted. Skirtings and door frames glossed. The ceiling was painted. It was a lot of hard work, but it was also great fun working with the team. A lovely sense of camaraderie prevailed as we all worked towards our joint mission. Everyone had a role to do, and we worked together brilliantly as a team.
Furniture had been donated, and these flat packs were all assembled. A carpet was laid to make the room safe for crawling and to make it feel more homely. New curtains were put up, a new light shade and a lamp to make the room feel brighter and airier.
The new occupant had a lot of input into the decor. Although she wouldn't see it until the 'big reveal' at the end, Kids Company worked closely with her to understand her tastes and what colour scheme and themes she'd like. The aim was to create an area for the baby, and a more 'grown up' and sophisticated sleeping area for mum.
It became obvious throughout the day that we weren't just painting walls. We were giving them some optimism. A safe and welcoming home she could finally call her own. A sense of belonging and security that she'd had to wait far too long for.
After an utterly exhausting day, we were quite nervous about finally meeting the young family who's home we'd been working on all day. There was trepidation about whether she'd like it, whether it had turned out how she'd been hoping.
We needn't have worried. It was such an emotional moment when they finally got to see the bedroom for the first time. There were tears - from the mum and from the team. It was such a small gesture to give up a day's work to help, but I really believe it will make a big difference. And once Kids Company have finished making the other rooms in the flat habitable, they'll have a real family home and the fresh start they truly deserve.
Kids Company are always looking for more help. There's lots of ways you can get involved. Why not suggest a day like this to your employer? It's a great team building exercise, and one that will leave you with a lasting sense of achievement. Please do spare a few minutes to watch the video, it really sums up the day.
I wish these two all the very best in their new home. I hope it's the start of fresh and lasting happiness for them both.
Special thanks to Kiddicare and Kids Company for having me along. What I lacked in painting skills, I hope I made up for in hoovering!