Two weeks ago I asked local people: if you could change just one thing to tackle child poverty locally what would it be? With more than one in five children in my Barnsley Central constituency living in poverty, it is a question that needs answering.
And answer it you have – with ideas for new projects, examples of existing work and offers of tangible, practical support. It has been heartening and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch with me.
I thought it would be useful to give a flavour of the suggestions made so far. I hope this will inspire others to come forward too.
One key theme running through more than half of the responses has been the importance of education. This ranges from big-picture ideas about how to make the education system better, to practical suggestions like running classes on the benefits of cooking with fresh food versus takeaways.
Time and again people have said that our children need to be pushed to believe that they can achieve more, to broaden their horizons and their ambition. Some of you have spoken about needing a cultural shift, to break the cycle of low aspiration. Some have linked this to financial resources, others to faith. Whether you are religious or not, there is certainly a shared belief that our children deserve better.
Encouragingly, many people have shared their personal journeys, illustrating how they have managed to turn their lives around after challenging starts or despite intimidating obstacles.
I was delighted to hear from Holy Trinity School about a project they are running with Horizon College and The Dearne school to pair pupils with life coaches from the business world. And Springwell school has offered insight into how tackling child poverty is integrated into their whole range of activities.
Similarly, I was encouraged that retired teachers have come forward to offer their services in providing tuition to local students.
Local charities and businesses have also offered support – from Tandoori Hut in Staincross and Andy Stocks’s Guitar School to the Exodus charity and staff within the Experience Barnsley museum.
Celebrities have also been in touch to offer their support – from cricketer, Darren Gough, to DJ Danny Rampling.
Ideas have included: children’s clothes banks; breakfast clubs; business mentors; better management of food waste; music taster workshops; homework and holiday clubs; a Barnsley lottery; landlord registration; free childcare for all early years children; safe spaces for children to play; integrating financial education into other services; educating grandparents about opportunities for children.
I know that some of these ideas already exist in parts of Barnsley. There are dedicated individuals and groups working hard to help our children, despite cuts in funding from national government, finding imaginative ways to continue delivering their services. We must learn from their experiences.
But let’s not stop there. If you haven’t already, please do get in touch. You can fill in one of the ‘Just One Thing’ postcards available locally or submit your idea online at: www.justonethingbarnsley.com
If we look to the passion and creativity flowing from the ideas sent in so far, then it is clear there is hope for our children. I expect nothing less from the people of Barnsley.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 March 2016.