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‘A life not a service’: how to support families in need

All Change Recreate young family project. Photo by Marysa Dowling

Islington Giving has launched its new programme for supporting local families over the next five years, following a consultation – called ‘A life not a service’ – with residents.

The organisation, an independent group of funders, businesses, residents and voluntary bodies working together to tackle poverty and inequality in the borough, has invested over £500,000 supporting local families over the last five years.

Its approach is focused on learning through doing, understanding the experiences of local families, and identifying where it can help the most.

To inform the next five years of its work it held conversations over a six-month period with a range of residents and those supporting them. The key challenges facing many families in Islington included financial hardship, local isolation and housing issues.

Islington is one of the most unequal places in the country with some of the wealthiest families in the country living next to some of the poorest. More than a third of children and young people in the borough live in poverty and more than one in ten live in overcrowded homes.

Families interviewed by Islington Giving said that ‘formal services’ were not always what they wanted. The carer of a family member with learning disabilities said she wanted ‘a life not a service’, the chance to go out and engage in activities as most families do. This sentiment was echoed by many other interviewees, who also said that they needed practical support in managing and alleviating poverty, access to opportunities to enrich their lives, and long term support to build their resilience.

In response, Islington Giving has distilled its programme of funding into four action areas. A Family Catalyst Fund will be established which families can use flexibly, to for example, pursue interests or hobbies, take a course or go on a day trip.

The organisation also plans to fund and support organisations that help build social networks, and to work with the BIG Alliance to find opportunities for local people to develop their confidence and skills. In response to calls for access to local activities, Islington Giving will partner with local businesses and organisations to ‘unlock’ Islington for those for whom local activities are unaffordable.

Through its funding programme over the last five years it has learned important insights into what works when supporting local families in need. In its report it identifies the need for flexibility when planning activities and opportunities for families, and reveals support is not always best delivered by professionals. One parent who looks after a child with special needs said that ‘sharing experiences with other parents who have experienced the same things makes me feel better’.

  • Read the full report here.

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