'There isn't money around for community work and that's what needs to happen': Are grass roots projects in Northampton key to educating a generation?

Children at Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery pictured enjoying playtime. Last year 92 per cent of children moving on to primary school made outstanding progress. Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery has seen pots of money from NCF help to improve the lives of their little ones, including a nursery cook.
Children at Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery pictured enjoying playtime. Last year 92 per cent of children moving on to primary school made outstanding progress. Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery has seen pots of money from NCF help to improve the lives of their little ones, including a nursery cook.

With parts of Northampton among the most deprived areas in the UK, a new report has highlighted how grassroots clubs and schemes need more help to lift the town out of poverty.

Stark figures show that income deprivation in Blackthorn in under-15s remains in the worst one per cent in the country, while Spring Boroughs falls into the lowest 10 per cent.

An updated Hidden Needs report has now been published by the Northamptonshire Community Foundation (NCF), which dishes out grants to hundreds of countywide projects each year, many of which are tackling poverty through a number of funding programmes.

Last year’s report revealed some 8,400 children were living in poverty in the town – and this year that number has ‘dramatically increased’.

But CEO of NCF Victoria Miles believes that local organisations can, with more money, help to improve the grim statistics. She said: “Since tackling hidden needs priorities over the past six months we see the real positive difference that donors can make by investing in grassroots charities and community groups to tackle urgent concerns on our doorstep.

“What we can also strongly evidence is that community-based solutions delivered by local voluntary and community groups are a key element to improving well being.”

The updated report shows that, during 2018, these organisations helped to train to some 1,162 people in new skills and helped 215 people gain a new qualification. Two groups in the heart of some of Northampton’s poorest communities are doing exactly that.

Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery and Springs Family Centre both work hard to make a difference – and each receive grants from NCF.

While both groups are different, they each say that grassroots projects are the answer to helping educate a generation.

But the groups, some of whom rely on handouts from local donors, require more help from local government, Rachel McGrath of NCF said.

“Child poverty is on the rise and needs to be urgently dealt with; local philanthropy is playing its part but there clearly is the need for properly resourced local authorities and public health services.”

Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.

Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.

'Encouraging aspiration is vital'

My top bullet point would always be: lack of aspiration. People don’t leave the estate,” Kathryn White chief executive of Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery said.

“People like living on here and it’s a nice community – and that’s great, and I love that. But it also indicative of this is just the world you know.”

Hidden needs in Blackthorn, according to Kathryn, include poverty, isolation and, mainly, daring to believe in yourself.

“A lot of the [hidden] needs would be aspiration, not having dreams or the idea to imagine yourself somewhere else – for young people that’s quite important.”

Teenage boys struggle to leave the estate and often the only place people travel to is Tesco, she said.

Kathryn and her team work incredibly hard at the nursery with 74 children aged between two and four years old to give them a strong start at primary school. Last year 92 per cent of 4 year old’s leaving nursery made outstanding progress. But when the two year olds started, 78 per cent were below their expected goals in social and emotional, communication and language and physical – the three key areas of personal development.

“Children come to us the term they are two – they are so far behind where they should be at two.

“I don’t want to not be shocked by that. You would assume a child would just develop but actually those two years are so crucial to a child.

“I’m absolutely not blaming parents – I’m blaming the world in a sense.”

Blackthorn Good Neighbours Nursery doesn’t just help children through learning but also hosts a food bank for parents, welcomes Citizens Advice sessions and hosts informal meetings to
make it easier for parents to befriend one another.

So how does she see things changing? “I put a quote on the board last week, she said. “’Thank you for being by my side’. That’s what people need. It’s simple to say and very difficult to do - there’s lots of ways you can have someone by your side. One of the ways we try as an organisation: we act like neighbours. We do our bit to get people to try and support themselves.

“We have informal sessions, we try and link up with nursery parents and look at low moods but we try and get the nursery parents to be friends with each other because if you have a good friend by your side then you can support each other.”

Money for more community work would also be a solution to address the root causes of hidden needs but that comes at a price.

“There isn’t money around for community work and that’s what needs to happen.

“Communities don’t develop without a bit of encouragement.”

In 2016 Growing Together opened the Brookside hub and it now has a group of people who look out for each other.

“Some of those people are parents of young children and that will make a difference.

“In my opinion that is very, very cheap to do, it doesn’t take a lot to fund a community development worker and give people that help.”

'If that beacon of light wasn’t there they would be blind'

Jacob Collins-Brown, pictured with rising rapper Yxng Ragzy and Lewis Manning-Nurse at the recording studio in Springs Family Centre. The studio has been partially funded by NCF.

Jacob Collins-Brown, pictured with rising rapper Yxng Ragzy and Lewis Manning-Nurse at the recording studio in Springs Family Centre. The studio has been partially funded by NCF.

Springs Family Centre has created a ‘street -level’ hub where all their services – from cooking classes to recording studio sessions – are free at the point of access.

For five afternoons a week the team offers a drop-in where people of all ages can have free computer access and CV help. But their youth work with those aged from 11 to 25 is their bread and butter.

It aims to divert young people from knife crime and the criminal justice system in a bid to try to maintain them in education.

Jacob Collins-Brown works there. He tries to tell those who have gone down the wrong path that there is still hope for them.

Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.

Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds.

He said: “This facility is an ongoing goal to take people and help them fulfil potential, realise that they are something and they are somebody – you are not what your environment says you are.”

He believes community centres need long-term stability, not short-term funding, and a greater need for more help.

Without the group, he said: “I honestly believe there would be a lot of misguided people, because it’s not just the youths.

“If that beacon of light wasn’t there they would be blind.”

The Northamptonshire Hidden Needs report, commissioned by NCF and researched by the University of Northampton, can be read online at www.ncf.com/about-s/hiddenneeds.
To donate call the team on 01604 230033.