Image: Family Voice
In the weeks of " Lockdown" I became increasingly conscious that I was hearing much of the impact of Covid 19 on arts and cultural organisations, locally and nationally, but losing touch with those working at "the face" in our local community. I was intrigued to know more about the charitable organisation, "Family Voice", in particular about recent initiatives to encourage creativity in the community.
So--- I contacted Kate West, one of three directors at "Family Voice" who we, at SVAG, had successfully worked with in the past. First Kate gave me some background. She and one of her co - workers, Janine, were originally employed at King Ecgbert School with the brief to build better connections between the school and local families.The aim was to enable children to reach their full potential. They were successful in developing good understanding and trusting relationships but after almost five years were made redundant. Determined to continue their work, they formed a charitable organisation, "Family Voice". Initially their focus was the provision of social and English classes for mothers who hadn't had previous access and who were socially isolated. They aimed to offer support and learning opportunities in a safe environment. New mothers joined their classes through primary schools.
The arrival of Covid 19 saw a growth in the number of volunteers and a change of focus for the organisation. Workers contacted one hundred of the most isolated families and identified need through detailed 45 minute conversations. Nasim, who spoke both Punjabi and Urdu was crucial in the communication process. The first priority and challenge was to convey clear, accurate information about Covid 19 to an audience which tended to be distrustful of authority and reliant on informal chat for information. The second aim was to ensure the safety and security of participants. Whats App messaging and calls replaced email. The circumstances necessitated a cautious, sensitive approach at all times. Issues around benefits, furloughing, exploitation and all the associated legalities had to be addressed. In particular the forms for Universal Credit had to be grappled with and referrals had to be made to foodbanks.
Another major concern was the need to occupy children during "Lockdown". Worksheets were felt to be inappropriate where adults in a family were not literate in English. "Family Voice", with by now fifty volunteers, supplied paper and pens to the children and this initiative proved highly effective.
Art and craft materials followed and there was a very positive response. They were delivered in bespoke packs to a hundred children known to "Family Voice". Generic packs were also sent to hundreds of children living in flats in Lockdown with no access to outdoors, ensuring that items delivered were safe and appropriate for limited space and families where there were younger children. The children were found to be calmer as a result, parents delighted to see their children doing creative activities. Some work was framed or laminated. They took considerable pride in their handiwork and shared Whats App images.
Donors appeared to love giving and seeing quality, unwanted items recycled. Both parents and children welcomed the packs and enjoyed the opportunities to be creative together. There were clear benefits in terms of mental health and well being. An Art competition was popular and affirming with over fifty entries. Quality watercolour materials were donated for both children and women by a group who held Bake Sales on their street. One woman, living in a refuge and having counselling, was given art supplies and has subsequently sold a piece of work for £40. Family Voice have lent a handful of mums sewing machines to pursue their interests. Community groups continue to rally and raise funds.
Three weeks ago Department for Education (DFE) funds were directed to "Family Voice" to enable the running of a summer holiday scheme administered by Voluntary Action Sheffield and Sharrow Community Forum. Thirty four children were contacted and individual solutions were offered to their needs. Each child had a wish list. Yards and balconies were cleared, initially by members of the fire service, to free up play space for items such as giant skittles and outdoor toys. A paddling pool was set up in the yard of an autistic child... There was an immediate, positive impact on the families involved. Attention is also being given to materials for indoor play. "Family Voice" is very conscious of the need to keep children mentally and physically active and engaged. One boy now happily rides a new bicycle, having been shielding with his family for months. Mothers have also benefitted from reduced isolation and associated stress. Kate was keen to emphasise that donated "things" were almost always enthusiastically received but in other cases talk and the awakening of memories of previous engagement with creativity had also been significant. Kate felt that their initial careful work in determining and understanding needs had been vital to their success to date. Sustaining relationships has proved to be essential in maintaining trust understanding and relieving stress.
Image: Family Voice
Kate: It all started in my front room !
"Family Voice" has been very successful in securing local and national funding and collaborates with many local organisations. Kate feels that the modest scale and grass roots approach of "Family Voice" should be preserved
Hearing what Kate had to say was a humbling experience. She and her co workers are modest and yet proud of what has been achieved. They are ambivalent about any promotion of their work which they feel has to be responsive and yet evolve quietly and strategically, with a constant reference to the circumstances and sensitivities of the local community. I was privileged in being granted an interview. Their approach is admirably professional, caring and informed by years of experience. "Family Voice " is unique and yet could serve as a model for other ventures where fostering creativity is not perceived as an optional extra but a key to raising self esteem, enhancing well- being and hopefully widening participation in creative arts.
Image: Family Voice
Image: Family Voice
What can readers of this piece do to contribute? Well, volunteer deliverers are always welcome as are donations of money. Quality outdoor toys are still needed.
"Family Voice" is based at
Common Ground,Woodstock Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield S7 1GL
For more detail see "Family Voice" Facebook page:
Thank you very much for your interest.