'Chestnut Grove Academy is a medium-sized secondary school in Balham, south London, with a large number of SEN pupils and a lot of children receiving free school meals. We pride ourselves on our inclusivity and unwavering determination to support every single member of our learning community.
At the beginning of the lockdown, our PTA, the Friends of Chestnut Grove, launched a campaign for our students who had no access to online learning because of a lack of IT. They managed to get more than 30 laptops donated by the community and raised £4,000 in a campaign to purchase a further 16 that were needed. The laptops were cleaned and then loaded with software by the school's IT department, and delivered by a team of teachers on pushbikes!
We also launched a crowdfunding campaign on DonateMySchool.com to support the families of pupils who needed urgent help during the crisis. We were aware that a vast number of our families had lost their solvency due to the closure of their workplaces or reduction of income, while low-income families had been plunged to new, extremely worrying depths of financial struggle.
As with many other schools across the country, lockdown meant that overnight our students were shut out of busy classrooms, bustling sports grounds and a lively canteen. They found themselves in a new world of isolation and, for many of our students, this was a world of poverty and resulting tensions within the family home. While we have maintained regular contact with all our students, this does not replicate the safety, sanctuary and support of the school environment.
Our crowdfunding campaign page outlined how we were looking to raise funds to ensure that our children do not experience hunger or sanitary poverty, or are left without access to our remote curriculum. Our initial target was to raise £7,000 to provide food vouchers and purchase other essentials (such as toiletries) for families who are unable to access government support or need more urgent help. We also wanted to provide internet access for families unable to fund it themselves. We decided to use any surplus to create a hardship fund for our disadvantaged students.
We launched the appeal just before the Easter weekend and advertised it through the Chestnut Grove Academy newsletter, Wandle Learning Trust, the Friends of Chestnut Grove social media, and local press. To our amazement and gratitude, we reached our target in less than 20 hours. We increased the target to £10,000, which we were able to reach the following week, so we have now raised the target again - to £15,000. It's been heartening to see how generously people in our wider community have responded.
The crowdfunding page was very easy to set up, and has proved easy to use for our donors too. We understand that the team at DonateMySchool have been working remotely, but they have managed to provide us with very swift support and assistance when required. We have been able to collect our funds through our PTA, which is a registered charity, and therefore DonateMySchool will also collect the gift aid for us - taking a small and very competitive cut for the administration and hosting.
We are already supporting several families with the money raised, and with additional donations from local companies, generous local donors and some trusts and grants. All support is being delivered remotely by our teachers and tutors, who know the families well and who have liaised closely with them. Donations are being delivered and packaged with smiles, words of reassurance and a sense of togetherness during what could otherwise be a solitary and isolating time.
We are immensely proud of our achievement to date with this campaign and hope that it will support our families that need it through the Covid-19 crisis.'
Sharon Noble, development manager, Chestnut Grove Academy, Balham, London (1,125 pupils)