School networks are vital to community safety

Schools can't provide everything children and families need to meet this crisis - but they can act as vital community resources, says Christine Stansfield

Schools can't provide everything children and families need to meet this crisis - but they can act as vital community resources, says Christine Stansfield

19 Dec 2022, 5:00

Schools play a central role in the community, not only in supporting children and young people to have the best educational start in life, but also providing vital opportunities for local families, residents and businesses.

As a trust, we believe that in order to have a meaningful impact in the community, it is important to provide support where it is needed most. For example, by working with key services in the area, from emergency services to wellbeing and youth groups, we can share vital knowledge that enables us to better understand and support the needs of the community and critically, our most vulnerable families. This ethos lies at the core of our safeguarding approach, and in the current climate, has never been more critical when looking out for the safety and wellbeing of students and families.

Many support services and local youth groups ground to a halt during the pandemic, and now families are battling with the cost-of-living crisis, questioning how they will meet rising food and energy bills.

This prompted our trust to forge a cohesive community-wide response, partnering with Melton Borough Council and hosting the first in a series of Community safety events at our John Ferneley College. The events aim to help local people access vital resources, knowledge and support from local services, on key issues including health and wellbeing, personal safety and financial management.

For many, schools are a safe and familiar space, which is why it was important for us to create an open forum at the college where people of all ages and backgrounds could join together. We invited students, parents, staff, residents, businesses and councillors, and emergency services and support groups ran informative sessions and workshops.

We had talks on personal safety for students, with the police providing top tips on travelling safely on bikes and e-scooters, particularly at night, as well as a parent session on online safety and bullying. Melton Health Café and Vita Health Group shared advice and resources on mental health and wellbeing and our local domestic violence charity, Living Without Abuse, also provided personalised advice for anyone in need.

In addition, our local council shared guidance on grants for energy bills and tips for navigating the cost-of-living crisis. The sessions provided an invaluable opportunity to create a central hub of support for everyone and, critically, to develop links with these service areas so that people know where to go in the future.

We know that for some families knowing how to engage and communicate with local services can be a hurdle. Therefore, providing a safe and open space helped provide reassurance and ease for families when connecting with local housing officers and youth group leads.

A key element of our wider safeguarding strategy at Mowbray focuses on establishing relationships with community stakeholders so that we can advise and signpost individuals to the most appropriate forms of support. For example, our trust safeguarding lead regularly attends local meetings to better understand concerns in the community, identify support services and any gaps in provision for children and young people.

In addition to the community safety events, this has also prompted us to launch a monthly LGBTQ+ meeting for young people in the area. We also run a weekly wellbeing hub at Brownlow Primary School to connect parents and residents with our trust-run food bank and offer support with essential items such as hygiene products and uniforms for students.

For any trust looking to build connections with their local community and improve safety and wellbeing, hosting events can offer a meaningful way to connect families and services, and empower students, parents and staff with the knowledge and resources to best look after themselves and others.

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