It’s now two years into life with Covid and as a mother of three boys, the past years has had its highs and lows. During the lockdown the challenges of juggling home-schooling, work and managing feelings of uncertainty, at times becoming overwhelming.
But as a family we got through it. Together
The feeling of togetherness I witnessed on my own doorstep, and also within the community where I work in Bettws in Newport, south Wales, kept me going. People reached out to help each other, especially as the pandemic revealed the depth of inequality in society and brought home the everyday challenges those living on low incomes face.
Families were already struggling before the crisis. Over the past two years we’ve heard how many have had to cut back on essentials such as food, heating and clothing for children and are sinking deeper into debt. Many parents also didn’t have the tools, resources and skills to adequately support their child’s learning and development at home which led to a lot of stress and anxiety.
These challenges aren’t limited to lockdowns and as we emerge to a new normal the additional pressures of the cost-of-living crisis means we need to take new approaches to ensure what matters to families is at the heart of all we do.
About Bettws and the Early Learning Community
Bettws is a 1960s estate on the edge of the city of Newport, which at one time, was the largest housing estate in Europe. It is an area that has known real challenges with one of the highest rates of poverty in Wales, but it has a strong sense of community.
The Bettws Early Learning Community project is a partnership between Save the Children, local primary schools, parents, Newport City Council, Welsh Government, health visitors, police, young offenders groups and housing associations who have come together to improve early learning outcomes for children in the area. It seeks to create a place where every child has an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive.
The project started its journey in 2018, looking at what problems the community had and how we could get to the root of them. We aim to join up and strengthen services that already exist to make sure no child falls through the gaps.
When the first lockdown was announced two years’ ago, we quickly pivoted to online meetings and found we were able to mobilise real help quickly. Working with our partners on the ground, we were able to deliver 80 emergency grants to help buy basic household items and food vouchers. Through gifts in kind and donations we were also able to deliver hygiene packs, family resource packs, and digital devices and support to help with home learning, including over 70 chrome books.
Children’s voices captured on film
During 2020 we commissioned a film crew to capture the voices of children living in Bettws and convey their hopes and fears as they grow up in this small community. They go on to talk about the changes and decisions they want adults to make to secure a better life for them.
Eight-year-old Lily May wants “all the grown-ups to work together to build new and better houses so that people who are poor can live in them.” And Junior, also 8, would like to ‘change plastic pollution.”
Filming began in February, just before lockdown and then continued in and out of local restrictions when the cameras were allowed to revisit and chronicle how life had changed for the children and how the Bettws Early Learning Community project had been able to help.
The children talk on camera how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their lives on the estate, especially when school was shut, and consequent local lockdowns meant they had to adapt to home learning again, missing out on seeing their teachers and friends.
“I felt sad because I love school,”
“Before we could hug our friends and see them and use each other’s colour pencils. But we can’t anymore, we have to use our own,”
The short bilingual film in English and Welsh also features the voices of teachers and partners working to help families on the estate during the crisis,
“None of us could of [sic] predicted that we were going to be hit with a pandemic that meant that schools would be closed and that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. The impact of us having the Bettws Early Learning Communities project already set up meant that we were ready to go.”
Lindsay Watkins, Headteacher, Millbrook Primary School
But although it’s been a tough time, there is a feeling of optimism of what can be achieved in in moving forward in building on the resilience of the children and their families to work together as a community. We have learnt valuable lessons from each other, especially the children we strive to help secure their futures.
As nine-year old Kobie nails it in the film: “This is how resilience works!”
And here’s a short film of Rebecca explaining how we managed to help families in Bettws during lockdow