Working with children in need

We have been funded by BBC Children in Need for the past 18 months.  This funding has helped us to deliver our vision of delivering fully integrated performing arts, media and literature – but in a seamless way. If anyone notices we have access provision in place we have fallen short of our aspiration.  As a kid I was aware of the stigma of getting free school meals – it seemed that the playing field was only levelled in the most public of ways. 

Some of the young people arriving for Saturday Voices live in some of the most affluent parts of London. Others are in the care of the local authority because they can’t live at home for the time being. This was always the vision. All of them pay £2 a week for their 90-minute session. Our affluent families often make additional contributions. But the starting point is that we treat everyone the same.

Around 25% of our young people have additional needs. This is across the social spectrum of our young people.   A history of good provision of services for young people on the autistic spectrum has resulted in our catchment area drawing families looking to support their children as best they can.  Our outreach team talks to the families, assesses the support the young people need and ensure we can respond accordingly.

The parents arrive, drop off their children and wait nervously in the café next door.  They stare at the door where their children are doing drama and wait. Not for the session to finish, but for the conversation that goes – I am really sorry, I don’t think this provision is right for your child.  When the door opens at the end of the session and their child comes out, they loiter. They wait for that conversation.  They smile nervously as the team say ‘see you next week’, wondering if this can be true.  Still half expecting a phone call that suggests trying somewhere else.  They come back the next week with noticeably lighter steps.

Pacing in the car park is the care worker who left home nearly 2 hours ago to get to the session. The young girl they have travelled with is from Wood Green, but her foster placement means that she currently lives in South West London. A bus, two changes on the tube and a short walk and they are here. Her house may currently be south of the river, but her home is in Wood Green. We are confident that she will grow a friendship group within Voices. Her friends will talk about music and make-up and they will talk about going to college and university as a natural part of their life’s journey. She is on the way to being one of the 6% of looked after children that make it into Higher Education.

We are seeing the foundation of lifelong friendships amongst people who, without Collage Voices would never have met. Often these are young people who have struggled to find their niche.

Collage Voices has also been expanding its reach into schools. We are one of the key agencies in the borough that kept working with young people in schools throughout the lockdown. We have extended our schools network, so we are working with both the service that supports young people excluded from school and the young people in the care of the local authority.

Marcie (not her real name) has been struggling with authority. This didn’t help at her trail following an incident where she bullied another girl into parting with her phone. The technical term for that is robbery. The court took a dim view of it.  Collage Voices hold sessions with Marcie at her residential placement. They are one to one.  She’s been writing lyrics, rapping a little too in a quiet way for someone with such bravado. After her third session she asked her support worker to listen to what she had recorded.  It was the first time she had let her guard down. First time she had showed she cared about anything. First time that she and her support worker had had a conversation which elicited more than monosyllable answers. First time they had broached the subject of what Marcie might do next. There are more songs in Marcie and Collage Voices will encourage her to come to Wood Green to record them in a professional recording studio, but not until she is ready. More conversations will follow with the pastoral care team and tutors at Collage Voices and the more she talks – the more chance there is that this story will have a happy ending.

BBC Children in Need’s investment bought us the time to be able to work with referral agencies, build their trust, grow our specialist pastoral care service to respond to the multiplicity of needs that our young people and their families face.

Collage Voices is now much more reflective of the area we serve. But we know we can go further and there is still more work. As we expand the provision and support a wider range of needs, we will need more staff, resources and spaces that mean we can create bespoke support.

On behalf of our Children in Need … we say thank you to everyone who gave, fund raised, or worked to help us get our transformative grant.

If you are able to support the work of Collage Voices please visit: . Anything you can spare will be put to work turning young people’s lives around.