I can’t believe it’s just over a year since I wrote my blog update - ’83,134 Acts of Kindness’. Without the usual reference points such as family holidays abroad and celebrations such as weddings to enjoy, some days it can feel like the last 18 months has blended into one long chapter in a book where the ending is far from written for so many people.
With furlough set to end in a matter of weeks, only now will the true impact of the pandemic on jobs be felt. On top of cuts to Universal Credit being implemented, I do fear the worst is still to come for many families living in low-income households, for people living in poverty.
Despite this gloom and my worst fears, I often think this past 18 months can be described as an oxymoron. A time filled with so much grief and heartache, yet somehow, it’s also a time which has delivered so much joy, hope and inspiration through people coming together to help others less fortunate than themselves.
I do think love, kindness and compassion never go out of fashion. However, perhaps they had become the exception and were undervalued, in a new world where people crave for and seek on-line recognition, long for material things and expect instant gratification and success.
It fills me with great pride to look back on our local community response to ‘wave 1’ last year – new relationships were formed, existing partnerships strengthened and people coming together to help. In our case, to transform the Academy into a food distribution hub and focal point for the distribution of > 75,000 packed lunches, > 3,700 ready meals, > 800 weekly food parcels and other donated items such as children’s clothing and arts and craft packs.
Although schools returned and our food distribution hub came to an end in August 2020, some new projects were launched. In addition, our Youth Workers were able to return to the Primary School landscape, to play a key role in helping children, young people and teaching staff adjust to a new world and learning environment. A new world dominated by the impact of COVID-19 and where the importance of high-quality relationships and human connection had never been greater.
Through the continued help and support of Baillie Gifford and our volunteers, working with local Head Teachers at Granton Primary School (in the 1st instance) and St David’s Primary School, a new project inspired by a project of the same name across the pond was born – ‘68 Hours’. Quietly and discreetly local families in need (identified by the schools) of a helping hand, received 7 meals per person in the household, each and every Friday to help them get by over the weekend – at a time when free school meals were not available.
Over the course of the past year 52,592 meals have been prepared and distributed with love, a caring set of hands and hearts. Connections have been made and sustained between Academy volunteers and local families. Some of the feedback has been truly heartfelt and moving.
“I was having a really hard time – my family has experienced some tough challenges and due to Covid, the situation was made even more difficult. Having the weekend meals was a huge support to me. I didn’t need to think about shopping or meal preparation for the weekend. Thank you for helping us during particularly difficult times”– received from a local family of 7.
Since we opened our doors, our focus has always been around how can we play a meaningful role in terms of helping to improve the quality of local people lives. After thrusting ourselves into the food insecurity space in 2020, it was important that we continued to play our part, to do something relevant and sustainable. In addition, we wanted to supplement and support newly established provisions created to help tackle this ever-increasing social need.
Our new ‘Roots Shoots and Scores’ food production and sustainability education programme was launched and has flourished this past year. As part of this new innovative programme developed in partnership with ReThink Food Futures, school children learn about social business and are given the opportunity to lead, manage and run a weekly pop-up pantry, which provides local families with a weekly food parcel. Families are invited to make an affordable donation if they are in a position to do so.
In addition, our ‘blue coats’ have played a key part helping to support local children and young people this past year. New projects – such as Sphero Superstars - have helped to improve children skills set, heighten engagement levels and shine a light on the amazing talent and capabilities which exist in our local Primary Schools. Now more than ever, we are driven to play our part in helping to close an attainment gap which has sadly increased as a result of the pandemic.
Quite simply, none of it would have been possible without the help and support of others. I’d like to thank our friends at Baillie Gifford, Bain Capital, IICF and Walter Scott in particular, for staying on the journey with us. Also our key local community partners and our Academy volunteers. We will forever be indebted to you.
I do hope our latest short film gives you a real sense of how we continue to work with others to play our part in our own wee patch of the world. In some ways Shelagh’s closing line is so simple, and yet so powerful and profound – “ensuring every child has a childhood”. In such complex and challenging times, perhaps the answers to addressing the rising level of need we are seeing can be found in stripping things right back to basics.
It’s no secret I love to read, to learn from others. People who have done extraordinary things, been beacons of hope – yet remain humble, grounded and are able to connect with others. Just this week I was re-reading a favourite book of mine, 'What I Know for Sure' by Oprah Winfrey. The following extract jumped off the page:
“With every experience, you build your life, thought by thought, choice by choice. And beneath each of those thoughts and choices lies your deepest intention. That’s why before I make any decision, I ask myself one critical question: what is my real intention?”
Our (The Academy's) intention is clear – we exist to help others, in whatever meaningful and relevant way we can. It’s what drives us all each and every day. We will continue to strive to ensure that understanding, love, kindness and compassion steer and shape our efforts going forward. They are traits to be encouraged and cultivated every day.
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Keep shining, Ds x