We live in wonderful part of the country – a beautiful place in which to grow-up with the amazing surroundings of countryside and coast. That’s why people flock to Norfolk for their holidays year after year and create fond memories to cherish.
Yet, behind this image of glorious countryside, lovely market and coastal towns, and a vibrant city, , there is, often hidden, a level of poverty and deprivation endured by children, young people and their families across Norfolk and Waveney. One of Norfolk County Councils’ strategic aims is to enable better opportunities for our children and young people.
Those living in economic deprivation statistically have lower educational attainment, suffer more from physical and mental health issues, have lower aspirations and life expectancy. And young people’s mental health was taking a battering even before the Covid pandemic, but statistics are showing a sharp increase in mental health referrals in the last three years.
Of course, behind each of the numbers in the rather sobering statistics is an individual child or young person. Children and young people can be vulnerable. This means that society at large has the responsibility to look after and genuinely care for and provide for their needs. As a Christian, I believe God wants everyone to find life in all its fulness. No one is beyond God’s care, and God yearns for every child and young person to know love, joy and hope. This means we should respect them, rejoice with them, and celebrate their intrinsic value as human beings made in the image of God. How can we bear that in mind when looking across a county when there is much need but seemingly ever-dwindling resources?
Our parishes and schools across the Diocese of Norwich are engaging with these issues and recently, I gathered people from a variety of public, private, and charitable organisations to share with them about our work within local communities. It was also good to have young people adding their voices to the table conversations as it is vital that we listen to them and learn from them.
At the gathering, I offered a shared space for discovery and dialogue, to enable all to consider what contributes to providing better opportunities for children and young people across Norfolk and Waveney.
I invited three speakers who spoke about projects in the Diocese of Norwich. The sports ministry outreach in Brundall and other areas that builds strong relationships with young people “where they are”. Baby Basics in West Norfolk, which meets a very real need for vulnerable mothers and their new-born babies, has seen a sharp increase in referrals. Our church schools’ aim of enabling children and their families to flourish was evidenced so well by the amazing work Kessingland Primary Academy is doing to champion their young carers. You can read their stories below.
For me, the rich conversation enabled the following five themes to come through loud and clear:
- The importance of building relationships of trust between young people and adults, and with families in need of assistance.
- Meeting young people and families where they are, rather than expecting them to always seek help (when they quite often don’t know where to turn).
- Collaboration between support agencies, including charities, rather than competing and/or duplicating, and building stronger local links.
- Calling for more resources to support our families and young people, and perhaps making our collective voice heard to those in positions of power to enact positive change.
- Persevering rather than giving up.
It was heartening to hear shared ideas, responses, and commitments, and it gives me hope as we look forward to working together to give our children and young people in Norfolk and Waveney the best opportunities to flourish.
Building relationship through sport
Tom Woods, Sports Minister, Yare Valley Churches
Based in Brundall, I’m one of a small network of Sports Ministers across the Diocese of Norwich. Through our sports youth outreach we’ve seen really strong opportunities created on lots of different levels for children and young people. Through regular detached youth work, running sports and youth clubs, and young leader training we’ve been able to develop key relationships.
Even in non-sporting situations like holiday clubs or youth clubs sport has provided similar opportunities. For example in our church youth club talking about sport has been a great way to immediately find common ground with so many of the kids, so as to build trusting, loving, safe relationships. “What’s your favourite football team/player?” or joking that their team got beat at the weekend, soon turns into them wanting to talk about famous footballers in court over rape accusations, and quite serious conversations where they open-up about quite vulnerable feelings and thoughts they have. It’s meeting with them where they’re at.
Providing basics for newborns
Maggie Anderson, Co-ordinator of Baby Basics, West Norfolk
We are a volunteer-led project supporting vulnerable mums & families who are struggling to meet the financial and practical burden of looking after a new baby.
A team of six, we meet weekly in St Nicholas Church, Dersingham, preparing new Moses’ baskets which provide a safe bed for the babies to sleep in. We pack the baskets full of essentials such as nappies, wipes, toiletries, blankets, baby towels and clothes from new-born to three months. For some mothers, these are the only items they may have for their baby.
Baby Basics works with midwives, health visitors, social workers, local organisations, and other professionals to help vulnerable Mums facing poverty or homelessness, or who are in crisis such as fleeing domestic violence.
There is a growing demand for our service. Since 2019 there has been an increase from 57 referrals received, to 300 in 2022, and we think this is only likely to increase.
Caring at Kessingland
Oliver Burwood, CEO of Diocese of Norwich Muti-Academy Trust
A key aim of our church schools is to enable children – and their families – to flourish. That means equipping children with the emotional and academic skills and resources to help form their aspirations and providing the support and nurture to set them on their way to achieving them.
Kessingland Primary Academy does this in spades in its support to their young carers.
They proactively identified those either registered as Young Carers or those acting as carers in some way within their families, and put in a support plan for each child both in and outside of school. A variety of events and activities focusing on the challenges of being a young carer has created greater understanding by all at the school. This leads to greater engagement as families spread the word about what is available. The school has recently been successful in achieving the silver Young Carers in School award, issued jointly by The Children’s Society and The Carer’s Trust.
You can see the article online in the EDP here