The Wokingham Paper

School uniform project to help tackle Wokingham poverty

Janet Rodgers, Dennis Eyriey and David Auger from Wokingham United Charities presented a donation of £25,000 to Emma Cantrell from First Days to launch School Days, a new project in Norreys ward. The money will be used to fund a worker who will help distribute school uniforms to people who live in poverty Picture: Phil Creighton

ONE of the borough’s oldest charities has come up with one of its newest schemes – a project to help families in one of the most deprived parts of Wokingham.

At a launch event, held on Friday last week at the FBC Centre in Finchampstead, more than 75 people heard Janet Rogers, trustee for Wokingham United Charities, share the group’s vision to enhance the lives of local people who are living in poverty.

The charity, which was established in 1451 to oversee alms houses in Wokingham town centre, recently received a windfall after selling land it owned, giving it a substantial pot of money to be shared among projects that work with people who are in poverty, hardship or distress and live within the parishes of Wokingham, Wokingham Without, St Nicholas Hurst, Ruscombe and Finchampstead.

It now wants to give out grants worth around £200,000 a year to help combat poverty across the borough.

And one of the first projects is a new School Days project co-ordinator to work in Norreys ward.

The scheme, which is overseen by the charity First Days, received the £25,000 grant at Wokingham United Charities’ launch event – enough to fund the co-ordinator for the first year.

The person will help link families together with Wokingham Borough Council and local churches and schools to provide school uniform and other essentials to children aged four to 16 who live in the deprived ward.

Emma Cantrell, the CEO of First Days received the cheque from Ms Rogers.

She said that the money and the support will make a big difference:

“The new member of staff will work in the Norreys area and with other organisations already working with families in the ward. They will get to know their needs.

“It will allow us to help children until the end of school, when they leave at 16 or 18. This is a massive change for us and we’re so pleased. We launched five years ago and this is now the next step for us.”

It is hoped that the new worker will be place in time for the summer term, with the first batch of uniforms to be handed out to families in desperate need in time for the new school year in September.

Ms Cantrell said that by encouraging local groups to work together, Wokingham United Charities was providing a “really intelligent role model”.

A smaller grant of £1,500 was given to ARC Counselling to help them cope with a funding gap between now and April. It will be used to help run a counselling service to schools.

Ann Stanton from ARC said: “We’re going in to schools to counsel children – even primary schools – and GP surgeries. Wokingham United Charities is helping ARC to make it happen.”

Ms Rogers said that ARC was a hugely respected organisation and the scheme they were supporting was a “really neat idea” to get the counsellors out to where the need was.

Wokingham United Charities committee at the launch

In a presentation, Ms Rogers outlined how Wokingham United Charities wanted to help other groups run similar and successful projects, highlighting how even in Wokingham there were pockets of deprivation, hidden isolations such as mental illness and people living a precarious existence, where they struggle to balance their income with the high costs of housing.

As such, the group was launching a new selection of grant schemes and were welcoming applications.

The first round is for priority areas, and would be up to £5,000 grants for projects that would benefit Norreys Estate, Gorse Ride Estate, and the St Sebastian’s area in Wokingham Without. It welcomes applications with a strong community involvement in the three wards. The closing date for this round would be April 30.

The second round would focus on school-based work for disadvantaged children, such as equipment for sessional activities, trips and residential breaks as long as they are delivered outside the standard school curriculum.

Grants of up to £2,000 are available and applications should be made by May 31.

A third strand would be for projects that address isolation and loneliness among the elderly and other vulnerable groups in the community. Again, grants of up to £5,000 are on offer and submissions should be made by July 31.

In the autumn, it will look for initiatives that would help prevent homelessness in the borough, but the details for this are still to be finalised. The charity wants to enable early intervention support to people who are at risk of becoming homeless.

And there are also grants of up to £500 available to individuals in need. Applications for this fund must be supported by professional referral agencies such as social services. Guidance on how to submit details for this is available on the Wokingham United Charities website.

Janet Rodgers presents a cheque for £1,500 to Ann Stanton from ARC counselling

Any not-for-profit organisation can apply, but it warns that larger organisations are unlikely to be successful.

Wokingham United Charities added that wanted to make grants go further, such as using them to match fund to projects.

“We are trying to help as many people in need in Wokingham, the disadvantaged in our community,” Ms Rogers said.

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