Diary of a development manager - Sharon Noble

Sharon Noble, of Chestnut Grove Academy in Wandsworth, London, on her lockdown spring term

Monday 4 January With secondary schools due to open on 11 January, our staff team come in to sort out the logistics of remote learning and mass testing during the planned staggered return of students. This could involve some of us temporarily redeployed to ensure we meet the government guidelines. It will also mean a significant spend on PPE and the creation of a testing centre that can run during the school day. 

Tuesday 5 January With heavy hearts, following announcements of school closures and the cancellation of exams, our staff team begin to roll out the carefully planned logistics of remote learning. We distribute the laptops we have to those who need them most, and put in place measures to safeguard our most vulnerable children and families through keyworker provision and by contacting homes.

I initiate fundraising to ensure every student has access to IT and does not go without the basics of food, warmth or sanitation during this lockdown. With our PTA, I create a joint community campaign for donated laptops and devices.

We set up a new crowdfunding page to provide our families in need with essentials, and I reach out to organisations and individuals that helped us during the last lockdown. We can only hope the generosity from the first lockdown is matched…

Friday 8 January I am overwhelmed when we raise an incredible £8,000 in the first 48 hours! Together with the senior leadership team, I work to reinstate the Chestnut Grove emergency grants system, setting out criteria and guidelines for how families can get financial support. All staff are briefed, and parents are informed about our fundraising campaign, and also about the opportunity to get help. Once again, a lovely Chestnut Grove community spirit emerges, with people who can help enabling us to provide for those in need.

Week beginning 11 January As with the last lockdown, my weekends are spent checking emails so as not to miss a family in need or a donation. Over this weekend, one of our parents and his friend each donate £5,000 towards our laptop appeal, enabling us to order the 55 laptops that are needed! During the week, another local family trust and an anonymous donor each give £1,000. Meanwhile physical donations of laptops come flooding in to be ‘cleaned’, uploaded and then distributed.

All the staff act as grateful ‘guinea pigs’ for the testing centre, booking our first of many weekly lateral flow tests, and helping to iron out logistics ahead of the return for students (whenever that may be).

Week beginning 18 January We send out the first emergency grants to families in need. I also make referrals for families to the BBC Children in Need Emergency Essentials programme for items such as beds and washing machines, plus laptops, tables and chairs for home learning. Brand-new laptops are received and distributed following a priority list.

During the second round of emergency grants, I receive double the number of requests. I also assist other schools in our Wandle Learning Trust with setting up their own crowdfunding pages.

In a jolt back to ‘normal life’, we receive confirmation that we are successfully through the first stage in our application to The Wolfson Foundation for funding for our new IT suite! We now have a month to work with the sixth-form team and computer science department to get the second stage application completed and submitted.

‘I initiate fundraising to ensure every student has access to IT and does not go without the basics during this lockdown’

Weeks beginning 25 January and 1 February As with the first lockdown, I am managing applications for emergency grants and exploring other avenues of support for our families. I am also following up generous donations, offers of laptops and other opportunities for funding. I hold several meetings and undertake considerable internal research for The Wolfson Foundation second-stage application. This is completed and handed in ahead of the deadline.

Our key worker students also have a bit of fun in the snow – creating ‘Harry the Snowman’ just before half term!

February

As often happens in the life of a fundraiser, a trust that has previously given funding to the school asks us to think about priorities over the coming year, offering the possibility of help if its trustees are interested. Cue another round of meetings with two departments, plus research and budgeting work to create a basic formal proposal for the trust’s upcoming meeting.

We also receive the wonderful news (through a government briefing) that schools will return from 8 March. The team start to plan for the testing requirements and logistics. There is yet more community spirit from Chestnut Grove, with an influx of volunteers for the testing centre, and a wonderful donation of cakes and goodies to keep us going.

March

We await the outcome of our Wolfson Foundation application and of the proposals sent to the second trust. Our PTA hosts a remote and affordable second-hand uniform sale for families needing new items.

So far, we have provided more than £8,000 in emergency grants to families in need, and we have the funds to continue until after Easter, when the reopening of retail and hospitality should reinstate many jobs. The laptops that have been distributed are mostly back in school, ready for any students that are required to isolate and also to be used in the event of another lockdown. In the meantime, students can use them in lessons.

We plan to finish a long-awaited project funded by the Mayor of London’s Greener City Fund – a green-roofed canopy next to the canteen that has been delayed since February 2020.

Most importantly, we enjoy the busyness, bustle and buzz of our students being back at school!

 

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