Tower Hamlets has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country. The latest data (from August 2011) shows that 26,845 children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty. This represents 46% of all children in the borough and is the highest child poverty rate in the UK.
These figures challenged me, and along with four others from Queen Mary University, I decided to do something about it.
With the help of the Three Faiths Forum and mentorship by an MP (as part of the Parliamentors programme), we devised a social action project that aimed at supporting children and parents in the poorest parts of the city. The research on child poverty in the borough showed that the lack of access to after school activities as a result of low financial income from the parents resulted in poorer children being stigmatised for not being able to participate. This resulted in lower social interaction and less opportunity to try out new sports and develop new hobbies.
With this in mind, our project (named Connect East) focused on providing schools with after school activities for free, allowing children from lower economic backgrounds to experience new sports.
Within the University, the sports department allows students to gain coaching qualifications as long as they fulfil six hours teaching within the community. However, the department was struggling to find places where the coaches could teach during the term time. Our project connected coaches with primary schools, putting on free sports workshops so that all children could experience the sports if they wanted to, with coaches also gaining their full qualification.
We wanted to create opportunities for children to participate in activities their parents otherwise couldn’t afford, providing some financial relief. Many primary schools have an after school budget, and with recent cuts being put in place they couldn’t afford to pay for coaches to come in. Our project therefore also provided financial relief to schools in Tower Hamlets.
The most popular sport requested was handball, which we were able to provide, with a coach giving a five-week training programme, in which ten kids participated, each gaining a medal at the end of the programme.
Even if it is only in a small way, our project is creating a growing opportunity for students to directly engage with their local community through sports, as well as allowing children to play sports for free. The social action project has become sustainable, with the sports department taking on board our school contacts to organise more coaching in the future during term time. One school asked for a female football coach to manage an all-girls team, which we hope to see arise, as well as basketball, handball, tennis and table tennis.
As a Christian student living in one of the poorest boroughs, I felt called to help my neighbour and community in any way I could. We might not have completely solved the child poverty rates, but we have been able to play our part in making some people’s lives better, and we hope our project will continue to do so in the future.