Bromley Brighter Beginnings is celebrating its first birthday!
On 26th October 2012, we received our first referral: for some clothes for a baby who had just moved into a domestic violence refuge with his mum. Since then, we have assisted around 65 families, as well as providing the refuges themselves with cots, travel cots, bedding, toys, DVDs and household items. One of the mums we have helped says:
“I don’t know what I would have done without the help from Bromley Brighter Beginnings, starting over would have seemed impossible. I fled domestic violence last year, I was pregnant and fleeing with my two children. After leaving the refuge and being rehoused everything was a battle. From being able to travel to the children’s schools, to getting food on the table. I didn’t qualify for the sure start maternity grant, so I basically had to count on hand me downs. But as we don’t know anybody in this area, it was very limited. If it wasn’t for Bromley Brighter Beginnings, we wouldn’t have had the essential things that are necessary for my baby girl. And it lightens the everyday that I can turn to them in hardship, so I can focus our limited funds on getting food on the table. I am ever so grateful. My sons realise the help we are getting, and fantasise about giving back when they’re grown up.”
I am immensely proud of the volunteers, and our many supporters, who collectively made it possible for us to make a difference to this woman and her children in a time of crisis. Maybe the memory of receiving that help, from complete strangers who nevertheless care about their welfare and their future, really will have a positive impact on those children as they grow up.
Over the last year, my experience with BBB has taught me a lot about the world I and my children live in. I had initially expected to be helping families in the outlying areas of Grove Park, Mottingham, Penge and Anerley, rather than in Bromley itself. But around half of the women we help live in domestic violence refuges, several of which are in Bromley. These women have survived and escaped domestic abuse, but are now living in poverty, raising traumatised children, with no family support. Often, their ex-partners try to track them down, so details of the refuges are highly confidential, and the women live in fear of being traced. There are also mother and baby units based in Bromley, which support some of the teenaged mums in the area (around 200 a year). We have had referrals from organisations such as Bromley Drug & Alcohol Service. Now, we are finally accessing the poorest, most vulnerable women in the area: asylum-seekers living in temporary accommodation, and women who have been rescued from trafficking.
Real poverty, and the complex problems associated with it, is so much closer to my own doorstep than I had realised. Right in the heart of affluent Bromley, where parents worry about things like how to get their children into the school with the best Ofsted results. In fact, earlier this year, the Campaign to End Child Poverty released statistics that indicated that Beckenham has one of the lowest figures (6%) for child poverty in the UK. Bromley’s figures are higher, at 16%, but nowhere near the figures seen elsewhere. It makes me wonder what we would be facing had we started BBB in a deprived area.
Every time I take my youngest son to preschool, we walk past the home of one of the women BBB has helped. When I met her, she was 9 months pregnant, spoke hardly any English, and had no family support. Every time I walk past, I wonder how on earth she is managing, living with her baby in one tiny room in a shared house – the kind of place that reminds me how lucky I am, because I don’t have to live there. She really needed a cot but there wasn’t enough space in her room for one, so we had to give her a Moses basket instead.
Walking away from women like her, after handing over a few items that probably aren’t going to change her life in any really significant way, is one of the hardest things about this work. I will never forget the young woman, trapped in a single attic room with a newborn baby and two preschool boys, who practically begged me to stay and have coffee with her. Anyone who has been at home with young children knows that it can be isolating in the best circumstances, but the experience of some new mums doesn’t bear thinking about. In the case of that particular woman, at least the pram we gave her meant that she could take her boys out to the park.
BBB had a shaky start. Over a period of 18 months, I made countless applications for funding that were all rejected. It was virtually impossible to make contact with key people, such as Social Services. Eventually we received a small donation from the employer of one of our supporters, and a police officer put us in contact with the right person at Bromley Women’s Aid. Finally, we received our first referral. A year on, we have also received a substantial grant from business management software company SAP, and built a huge network of contacts with virtually all the professional people who work with deprived families in the London Borough of Bromley. In addition to Helen Gardner and I, we have a team of volunteers: Katie Swan, Mary Bragg, Katy Forsdyke, Lisa Pearman and Shelley Kavanagh. Karen Bell has been behind the scenes the whole time, setting up our website and providing us with much-needed help in all IT-related matters.
There is so much more that we could do, with more resources and people-power, but the important thing is that we have made a start. If you would like to join us on this journey, we can always use another pair of hands, so please get in touch.