Free kids activities stop Northampton parents struggling to keep afloat during the summer holidays

Nicole Wallace with her four-year-old twin girls. Pictures: Leila Coker.
Nicole Wallace with her four-year-old twin girls. Pictures: Leila Coker.

While there is no dispute that the summer break provides some much needed respite for pupils - how does six weeks of no term-time affect working families who are living on the breadline?

Following our efforts, three years ago, the Chron and Northamptonshire Community Foundation (NCF) helped to raise £11,559 to support five poverty-tackling charitable projects working with children and young people in Northampton.

Pictures: Leila Coker.

Pictures: Leila Coker.

NCF - which dishes out grants to improve the lives of the county’s most disadvantaged people - has been lobbying for change after the grant providers published a new Hidden Needs report in March, which revealed 8,400 children go hungry in Northampton every year.

One parent in Northampton, Nicole Wallace, 32, is off work after facing problems with her mobility and is struggling to feed her children after her already sparse income has been slashed again.

The Blackthorn mum-of-five works in catering for Hope Enterprises at Northampton Crown Court and is now paid just £92 a week on sick pay.

Before her twin girls left school last week, nursery fees were costing Nicole £104, every week, leaving her with £60 in her back pocket after deductions from her child tax credit allowance, to feed the children and pay her bills.

Jady Marty. Pictures: Leila Coker.

Jady Marty. Pictures: Leila Coker.

She says entertaining her older children during the school holidays does come down to money.

“I’ve got next to nothing to live on come to the end of the week - I’m really struggling.

“I’ve got older children and they want to go out all the time so they want money for that. They want to go swimming or to the cinema with their friends - so we are looking at £10 a pop. I can’t afford that.

“Now my money has been really cut drastically due to my mobility I can't work at the moment.”

Pictures: Leila Coker.

Pictures: Leila Coker.

Fortunately, when Nicole was picking her four-year-old twin girls up from nursery on their last day of term she noticed a sign for Food In the School Holidays (FISH), which is held every Tuesday at Blackthorn Academy.

FISH was set up in October half term last year and is funded by Emmanuel Group of Churches.

Northamptonshire Community Foundation gifted them a £5,000 grant to help run a series of lunch clubs in the school holidays, which is overseen by Blackthorn Good Neighbours.

The lunch club receives donations from Greggs and Tesco so families can eat a variety of pastas, pastries, ice cream and cakes, for free at lunchtime while a different entertainer fascinates the children every week.

FISH - which runs from 12 noon until 1.30pm every Tuesday - is one of the groups funded by Emmanuel Group of Churches, which also pays for a Monday morning breakfast club and a gardening club on a Tuesday at the community centre in Blackthorn.

On Tuesday (July 24) more than 120 parents, guardians and children soaked up the sun as a bubble blower entertained the children.

Nicole added: “Fortunately I noticed [the FISH poster] the other day when I was at the nursery picking my children up from their last day.

“I double-checked it and I invited a friend along as she had no idea of it either. I don’t think it’s advertised enough to be fair around the areas.

“Fortunately, I caught a glimpse and it means that the kids can get out for a little while, we’re not stuck indoors, they’re not screaming at me because I can’t take them out and food being provided is wonderful as it means I don’t have to worry about lunch.

“It’s my little girls’ birthday as well so it means that they’re getting to do something.”

Nicole told her friend Jade Marty about the event at Blackthorn Academy on Tuesday.

Jade said she is grateful there are free events for her children to enjoy as the price of children’s fun days out are only getting dearer.

She said: “Everything these days seems to cost a fortune. Even just getting the bus to Abington Park, if you don’t drive, that’s expensive now. That’s £8.20 for me and a six-year-old there and back.

“They get a lot of screen time if you don’t take them out, which obviously I don’t want to happen. So events like this are really good, it’s free, you don’t have to pay anything out and it gives them something to do and a couple of hours out of the house."

Jade, who is facing redundancy while on maternity leave with her four-month-old son, lives with her partner and says she notices her food shop increase by £20 a week when her son is off school.

Rachel McGrath, grants director and deputy CEO Northamptonshire Community Foundation, said: "The foundation is funding Growing Together Northampton to tackle child poverty, which is a priority need identified in the foundation’s Hidden Need report.

"The 2015 indices of multiple deprivation shows that Blackthorn is in the lowest five per cent of areas in England and in the lowest one per cent of income deprivation affecting children.

"Goldings is in the bottom 15 per cent and ten per cent respectively."

The relaunched Fair Deal for Kids fund will be a ring-fenced pot of money for community groups and volunteer organisations within Northamptonshire that work to tackle poverty, just like FISH.

Reverend Haydon Spencley of Emmanuel Church said: "Emmanuel is always seeking ways to serve our community better and to show love and care. This partnership with several key community groups enables us to not just feed people but to give a weekly holiday dose of fun, excitement and opportunity for children and families to gather together.

"We were drawn to Blackthorn particularly because of the work that our community care worker, Paul Foster, did in identifying areas in our community that would most benefit from support. We are grateful to NCF for funding and for our partners for working so wonderfully together to do something which has quickly become special.

"We are seeking to take this idea to other schools and communities in our area soon."

Every small donation will make a real difference. To donate to our campaign, click: www.justgiving.com/ncfoundation

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