Challenges that lie ahead

06 January 2023 |

The shadow of the cost of living crisis is hard to ignore. On a daily basis we read of price increases, eye-watering utility bills, hardship and of struggle. Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend that these headlines are being written in 2023. Behind these headlines is the human reality for so many families of walking in the supermarket having to count every single penny, of heating that isn’t switched on for fear of an unaffordable bill and for a Christmas just passed where the pain of having to say no to children and tighten belts after years of not being able to be with one another. The result is a sharp increase in levels of poverty, deprivation and struggle meaning that there are now over 4 million children within the UK who are living in houses blighted by poverty.

We are far from immune to this with our communities and as a family of schools serving over 5000 children, we have seen the effect of this already. For the operation of our schools we have seen an overall increase in costs of nearly 15% from last year with funding nowhere near matched to this level of constraint. Our own utility bills have increased by over 300% compared to this time last year and for one of our secondary schools the electricity bill for one month in Autumn was over £30,000 when it was £3,000 this time last year. At a time when the resilience and wider provision of schools is needed most, we have much less available. This does not deter us and will not stop us serving. We have partnered with a number of charities and foodbanks to help to signpost support to our most vulnerable families and used donations from local networks to provide food parcels and boxes over Christmas. Working with our local churches has given additional help and support where needed, including warm spaces for the elderly within our local communities who are struggling to heat and eat.

Within schools, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of families who are struggling to pay the bills, to put enough food on the table and to heat their homes. Often, they feel embarrassed about this and can be shy in asking for help. There is no shame in struggling during this unprecedented cost of living crisis and we all have a duty to respond to these needs with kindness and empathy, not judgement or criticism. I grew up in a single parent household where money was very tight indeed and often my mum, a cleaner, would go without food herself to ensure that the kids could eat and we would sometimes run out of money on the electricity key and spend evenings with a candle in the living room and blankets all around us. Through the belief, care and support of teachers and my school I was able to achieve well and for us to be supported with uniform costs, food and bursaries. The reason I trained as a teacher and work within education is to pay back those staff who helped to raise me up by doing the same for others and tough as these times are, I believe that our schools and the staff who serve tirelessly within them, offer the light and hope of better days, and the care and support to get everyone through this towards them.

Since moving to the area,  I have been struck by just how close-knit and caring our local villages and towns are with such a strong sense of community. This is what we need now more than ever, so please support each other and offer any support to your local schools that you can – in terms of your time as volunteers, donations of food, money or resources or simply positive engagement and understanding of the work we are doing. Together, we can ensure that those in our communities that need us most do not slip through the net nor feel forgotten. Together, we can ensure that no child goes hungry or bears the consequences of circumstances beyond their control. Together, we can make a difference and be the difference.

Dan Morrow

Trust Leader