A sports mentoring charity has transformed the way it reaches disadvantaged children during the coronavirus lockdown.
Since the government ordered schools to close, coaches from the charity Greenhouse Sports have been keeping in touch with schoolchildren over videoconferencing app Zoom, holding sports lessons over Instagram Live and uploading training videos to YouTube.
Greenhouse works with 7,000 young people from 37 schools across London. Its 48 coaches run a range of sports programmes, including basketball, tennis, table tennis, volleyball and yoga.
Luca Toth, a head coach at the charity, taught volleyball at the Central Foundation Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets. She tells The Independent: “I see sports coaching as a tool to get close to the girls and be a mentor figure. We teach them teamwork, to persevere and to handle disappointment.”
Some 67 per cent of the young people Greenhouse mentors live in postcodes classed as “deprived”. Just north of the Greenhouse Sports Centre in Marylebone lies Church Street Ward, one of the most deprived wards nationally. Figures from 2017 suggest more than half of children in the area live in poverty.
A spokesperson for Greenhouse tells The Independent: “Lockdown came in and suddenly kids were completely cut off. One child could have had a breakfast club, a lunch club, a PE session and an afternoon sports session with us. A lot of the kids are going back to home lives that are very difficult, in confined spaces.”
Some children that it mentors come from families where sport is not seen as a cultural priority. Others do not speak English at home. “The Joe Wicks PE experience might not actually cut through to them.”
Joel Archard, a father of three, calls Greenhouse “a beacon of the community” over the phone with The Independent. His daughter Luna, now 12 years old, plays table tennis with Maria, another coach and mentor. “They didn’t let the lockdown stop them. They do zoom calls, and ask ‘how are you doing?’. It gives the kids a bit of structure to their lives.
“It’s been really tough, with regard to home schooling,” he confides. “From a parent’s point of view, [Greenhouse] gives us a bit of respite and a chance to sit down.” He has been furloughed from his job in retail, and his wife helps him look after their three children and her elderly mother.
Greenhouse is also preparing for the end of lockdown. “Everything is pointing to the fact that the recession will hit the kind of families we deal with hardest, especially young people who have missed school,” says a spokesperson.
It has transformed its physical sports centre into an extension of the North Paddington Food Bank, which has become the Westminster community hub supplied by The Felix Project, The Independent’s charity partner. It now delivers close to 100 food packages a day.
Mark Curtin, CEO of The Felix Project and former COO of Greenhouse Sports, says: “The Felix Project is proud to have worked closely with Greenhouse Sports for many years. During this health crisis it’s great to see them open up their amazing sports centre at the heart of the local community. We applaud their innovation.”
Two other organisations that have innovated to support our campaign under lockdown are Holland & Barrett and Daylesford Organic. Holland & Barrett, a regular supplier of The Felix Project, has donated 2,000 units of vitamin D for elderly people stuck at home at risk of deficiency.
Daylesford Organic has released a range of fermented vegetables with Felix Project branding. The farm shop offers “ferments” of radish and butternut squash as “unusual” garnishes for meals or cocktails. It expects to raise an additional £10,000 per year, and all profits from the products go to the charity.
Luca, the volleyball coach from Greenhouse, expresses her concern about her children’s welfare through this crisis. “There is probably no privacy for many of the kids sharing rooms. I’m worried that the ones who were ok when we left will suffer, and those who weren’t ok at the beginning will come back worse.
“We are dealing with so many people who need us. I have seen what a change we have made in these people’s lives.”
The Independent is encouraging readers to help groups that are trying to feed the hungry during the crisis – find out how you can help here. Follow this link to donate to our campaign in London, in partnership with the Evening Standard.
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