Supporting children through the pandemic in Hackney – a photo essay | Coronavirus

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“The only time I come out of my bedroom is when my mum calls me,” Ava Ogarro quietly confesses to me as we chat on the sofa. She’s eight years old, and the youngest of three living with their mum, Joanne Piggin, in a two-bedroom apartment on the Frampton Park Estate in Hackney, east London. Ava hasn’t left the flat in days, despite Joanne encouraging her to see friends. Over the last year, something has changed and she doesn’t feel comfortable being around other people any more.

Joanne and Ava put their arms around each other in their living room

While the direct impact of the virus on young people’s health has been minimal, the knock-on effects have been massive. A recent ​Co-Space survey​ led by experts at the University of Oxford has shown that children from lower-income families have displayed consistently higher behavioural, emotional and attentional difficulties over the course of the pandemic, and a separate report from the Guardian ​found that anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders and self-harm had risen sharply in under-18s.

In Hackney, local support networks have been in overdrive. Many residents are making heroic efforts every day to support others who are struggling – sourcing laptops, distributing food, home-cooked meals and kids toys.

Alongside pre-existing problems such as food and digital poverty that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, young people’s mental health is another crisis unfolding behind closed doors. No one’s life has gone unaffected, but for children the last year looms larger. For Ava it’s an eighth of her life, spent largely indoors.

Betzalel turns a somersault on the trampoline in his garden

The Davidovitses are fortunate to have this extra space while their six children are home so much. Housing in Stamford Hill in Hackney has become extremely expensive, and Orthodox Jewish families are traditionally large, so many families find themselves living in more cramped conditions.

Shukri Adan kneels to hug her daughter as she tries to follow her out of the door

Shukri has five children and to successfully balance her community work with parenthood, sometimes brings them along. She founded the organisation Connecting All Communities in 2013 to help people largely from east African backgrounds integrate and bridge language barriers. In between classes they offered help with everyday tasks and started cooking meals for the homeless, eventually evolving into the primary service they’re providing during the pandemic – fresh fruit and veg and home cooked meals for struggling families in Hackney.

Andrew Gordon hands a laptop to Romulo while his daughter looks on

  • Andrew Gordon, a volunteer with Bridge the Gap – Families in Need, delivers a free laptop to Romulo and his daughter. August 2020

After years of volunteering for local organisations, Melissa Francis founded Bridge the Gap – Families in Need at the start of the pandemic. So far, it has been awarded almost £13,000 in grants, enabling it to help more than 60 low-income families gain access to digital devices such as laptops, tablets and phones.

As well as grant money, the mother of two also relies on donations from the public who’ve heard about her work. An Ofcom survey from January and March 2020 found that 9% of households with children in the UK did not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. Lockdown and school closures have put tremendous pressure on many families who have more children than digital devices, meaning Melissa’s work is more important now than ever.

Shukri Adan and her volunteers hand out meals and bags of gifts to children in a park

Traditionally families would enjoy a big feast together to mark the end of fasting for the month of Ramadan. This year, due to social distancing, Eid couldn’t be celebrated in large groups so Shukri organised meals and presents to be handed out to families one by one in the park. The day was funded by the Peabody Trust, one of London’s oldest and largest housing associations that often supports grassroots community programmes.

T’shaya Francis-Gordon kicks a football in the garden

Earlier in the year, T’shaya Francis-Gordon helped raise money for her mother Melissa’s organisation, Bridge the Gap, by selling homemade cupcakes on the street outside their home in Hackney. T’shaya has autism and thrives on structure and stability. She started at a new primary school in September and has since struggled adapting to a new system and the inconsistencies of on-and-off homeschooling.

Michelle Dornelly talks to children at her activities club

During half-term Michelle, the founder of the Hackney charity Children With Voices, leads ‘Jumping Beans’ sessions – extracurricular activities designed to help children during the school holidays as well as fight holiday hunger by providing free meals. Today the food is provided by the Duke of Richmond, a local pub that responded to the footballer Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign.

Che Clarke leads football practice with children on the estate

  • Che Clarke, centre left, leads football practice with children from the Hawksley Estate. October 2020

Salaam Peace is a charity started by Sabir Bham that uses sport to help tackle sociocultural issues such as gang violence, mental health and religious hatred within communities across north-east London. He founded SP United FC and, along with team captain Che Clarke, one of the younger members of Salaam Peace, coaches children from the borough.

SP United team members line up for a pep talk from Sabir Bham

  • Sabir Bham, the founder of Salaam Peace, encourages SP United FC to fight back after going 1-0 down at half-time to Inter Lucia on Hackney Marshes. November 2020

Che talks to players on the pitch while Sabir talks to the referee.

Hackney Marshes is home to the largest concentration of football pitches in Europe, and the Sunday league can get very competitive.

Christina Sowa-Opoku, in her red school uniform, discusses an upcoming performance during an after school session with Fame Star Youth in Woodberry Down Community Centre, 12th November, 2020.

  • Christina Sowa-Opoku, in her red school uniform, discusses a performance during an after-school session with Fame Star Youth in Woodberry Down community centre. November 2020

Woodberry Down is an area of Hackney with a high density of low-income families and where gang grooming is prevalent due to the number of schools in the vicinity. Euphemia Chukwu set up Fame Star Youth and these weekly after-school classes to encourage children aged eight to 18 from the local area to embrace their creativity by learning valuable skills in media and arts. Those who regularly attend can potentially receive a free laptop or tablet if they need. So far Fame Star Youth has distributed almost 30 digital devices.

On the eve of the second government lockdown, a socially distanced congregation take part in one of their last prayers before the re-closure of the Suleymaniye Mosque for public worship, 4th November, 2020.

Even with closed doors the Suleymaniye Mosque has continued to serve its community. At the end of October 2020, Suleymaniye Aid, the mosque’s humanitarian organisation, provided 300 meals during half-term to children as part of Rashford’s campaign for free school meals.

Volunteers from Clapton CFC, a local women’s football club, go through clothes donated to the E5 Baby Bank in Hackney, sorting them into zip-locked bags labelled by age groups, 8th November, 2020.
Beautine Wester sorts through bags pf donations in the church

Each week different groups from the community come to lend a hand with the many donations received. Beautine Wester, a paediatric nurse, set up the E5 Baby Bank in June 2020 after witnessing the alarming increase of families without basic clothing, food, nappies, toys and other essential items. Places of worship such as this church have been closed through much of the pandemic, providing a space for the baby bank to operate from and an opportunity for the church to renovate.

Queues are now often around the block at the Community Food Hub run by Children With Voices on the De Beauvoir Estate in Hackney, 12th November, 2020.

As the year came to a close, need in Hackney shot up. Borough-wide road closures meant to encourage drivers to use alternative methods of transport have had the knock-on effect of making bulk deliveries by car much more complicated. The Hackney charity Children With Voices operates 10 food hubs in east London, feeding more than 1,000 families each week.

A young girl waits with a shopping trolley while adults queue in the background
A boy holds gifts wrapped in festive paper

Ege is 13 years old and lives near Amhurst Road in Hackney. His sister has been struggling lately so he’s been helping her with shopping and carrying things from their family’s home to hers. He was nominated to receive the presents in recognition of his help and support by one of the volunteers from the Children With Voices community food hub. Throughout the Christmas period, the hub donated presents to struggling families alongside food and essentials.

This work by Grey Hutton was supported by the National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Supporting children through the pandemic in Hackney – a photo essay | Coronavirus

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