We talk to Jane Thomas from School Start First Impressions, one of FSM's partner organisations, about what they do
“School Start First Impressions (SSFI) was set up in April 2015 and our first 5kitbox was sent out in August 2015. I had just completed a theology degree, and one passage that resounded with me was about "putting the child at the centre” as well I had been looking at child poverty and recognised that the transition from early years to school was an important time in a child’s life. At the age of five that’s the time you want to try and put the child into the centre of their family, their school and their community, and for a short time put them on a pedestal and say, “you’re important, you’re worthy”. It makes the child feel good and builds confidence.
Along with Rae Blackwood and my husband Graeme Thomas, we set up an initiative as part of the Addenbrooke Foundation to help children of financially struggling families to start school. Most of our funding to date has come from the Thomas Family Trust, but we also have great relationships for example with Sistema, who donate over 150 flasks and lunchboxes and give us a big discount on other products we need. We also run regular fundraisers.
The SSFI idea was simple - to give children in poverty who were also starting school a gift-box (5Kitbox) of things they need and some fun items, to make them feel special and take the financial pressure off their families. We work with referring agencies like FSM to get the child’s name and personal interests so we can tailor the box to suit the child’s needs. We also ask the referring social worker like FSM staff to deliver the box because the families already have enough other people in their lives – they don’t need us there as well. Plus, it’s a nice thing for their social worker to be able to do.
The child will receive the 5Kitbox on their birthday. Each box is slightly different depending on the child, but they always contain all the stationery, a school bag, lunch box, a set of school clothing including shoes and underwear, and we pay their school donations. On top of that there is some fun stuff – a birthday cake, a gift, a family activity, a reading book, an activity book, balloons and some party materials like decorations.
When we launched, we decided we would send out 25 boxes in the first year, but in the first six months we actually distributed 40. It was clear the demand was there, so we worked on increasing our reach. We’ve delivered 550 boxes since we started, and we expect to do 400 boxes in 2018.
Jane says, “we couldn’t do this without agencies like FSM. They are on the ground, seeing the children, understanding their interests and needs. We get really good feedback from the families who receive the boxes - they love it. It helps the child to be able to start school with confidence, a sense of wellbeing and belonging, and it gives the family the breathing space they need to focus on giving their child support.”
Click here to find out more about School Start First Impressions