Client Story

Family Gateway

  • Location: Tyne & Wear
  • Sector: Community Services
  • Amount: £37k
  • Purpose: Expansion
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“I grew up in poverty, I was one of six children in a little mining village, squeezed in a three bedroomed council house.”

All staff at Family Gateway have lived experience of the issues they tackle, including its Strategic Director, Pauline Wonders.

“My parents didn’t have anything,” Pauline said. “By the end of the week, it was often sugar sandwiches or tomato ketchup sandwiches because there was no money left.”

Pauline worked hard at school, determined to escape that life. With no money for university, she decided to train as an accountant, ‘as there was money in that.’

Bringing up two children, she got her qualifications and worked in the NHS, rising to Deputy Director of Finance at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals, managing a £285m budget.

She got to a point where she wanted to try teaching, a path that led to her writing a bespoke foundation degree for the Tyne Gateway Trust. She sat on their steering committee.

Tyne Gateway Trust was part of the council’s child anti-poverty unit innovation pilots in 2009.

“At the time, child poverty was going through the roof but there was money being ploughed into social care and clearly it wasn’t working. So, these innovation pilots were invited to respond with different approaches. We put together a proposal on the basis of the Barefoot Professional model, which means your staff have lived experience of the issues and you professionalise them in the roles.”

They trained local parents who had overcome difficulties of their own, from homelessness to domestic abuse.

“They didn’t necessarily have qualifications which wasn’t our priority – what they did have was an innate desire for other people not to live through what they’ve lived through.”

After two years, it showed real success, but the money and pilot came to an end.

“The steering group said, ‘let’s put this project in a drawer’. Myself and some others said hang on a minute, you can’t do that. It’s been hugely successful, the outcomes are incredible, why don’t we just set up and run it as a charity or a social enterprise? So that’s what we did. In 2011, the charity was established and we had the salaries for the community entrepreneurs underwritten by the council for a year, and after that we’d have to be self-sufficient.”

The charity, now called Family Gateway, added a social enterprise a few years ago, with a community hub, cafe and catering business, contributing to an annual turnover of up to a million pounds.

Its 27-strong staff provide intensive support to 350 marginalised families a year, with multiple and complex needs at risk of crime, eviction or having their children taken away. It takes time for their Family Entrepreneurs to initially build their trust and get them to acknowledge their issues, such as mental health or addiction, before starting to build a plan to address them.

“The trick then is to help them help themselves. It sounds twee, and it’s not as easy as it sounds.”

“We’re working with a lot of young people on the edge of crime, that involves real patient conversations, getting to understand them and engage in diversionary activities, even go for a walk

and open up about what’s holding them back. It could be any manner of things. A lot of these families don’t have just one issue, they have seven or eight, and they’ve often been let down by services so many times, or are fearful and they really don’t trust or have the confidence to move themselves forward. The ultimate objective is to get the parents into work, but there’s a lot of pre-employability work to do first.”

Going to their homes is integral to the work, as many are hard to engage.

Income comes from schools who pay them to engage children who don’t attend or achieve, and from grants, as well as their trading arm.

“The social enterprise was just starting to pick up before Covid, with a couple of corporate clients, regular footfall in the café, a takeaway service, and then Covid hit.”

Their large community centre lost trading income as tenancies and exercise classes stopped. Income became unstable, but need shot through the roof.

“The core charity work has been more critical. In Covid, conflict in the home went through the roof. We secured some work with the Police and Crime Commissioner around young people and their emotional and mental health around anti-social behaviour, a lot of that was abuse in the home by teenagers.”

They used their facilities to offer a free family meal service, kickstarted with donations and grants, and did doorstep visits.

“In a year we’ve delivered over 72,000 free meals to families for the whole family. They have three meals a week, made at our premises, chilled and delivered to their door, with a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Driven by the hard work and home-grown vegetables, often needed to be balanced with ketchup sandwiches, of her childhood, Pauline is determined to address the serious malnutrition and obesity issues in the North East.

“We’ve done some evaluation and assessed the food, and they’re snacking less, spending less, and are less stressed, as well as having a better idea of nutrition. The children love bananas and apples, they never did before.”

Delivering free meals was also a way to do welfare checks on their families, all their Family Entrepreneurs are trained in safeguarding. The team also used WhatsApp group calls and video calls to keep the same level of engagement.

“The hope is these good habits will continue when the café re-opens, with an offer of cooking classes.”

Key Fund gave £37.5k grant from the Social Enterprise Support Fund, primarily to fund the post of a Head of Community Business, who is also a Michelin-trained chef.

“He’s really taken us to the next level,” Pauline said. The aim is to be less reliant on grants, and creating a quality offer, with a strategic plan to use enterprise and community to support the charity.

“I want it to be the best catering social enterprise in the North East. It will allow us to increase our social impact.”

Pauline’s aim is to get children in poverty interesting in food, picking vegetables from their garden, and interested in food and cooking, to break the malnutrition cycle.

“Without the funding from Key Fund, we would have stumbled along. It allowed us to take that risk and do something we might not have done, because of the timing and not knowing what the funding landscape will be next year. It was absolutely critical. I don’t think we’d be where we are now without it. I really don’t.”

“The drive for me is that if I don’t drive this business to be successful to generate income, we won’t exist, and if we don’t exist, who else is going work with these families because nobody else is doing this?”

The job is ten times harder than her Deputy Finance job, but she says, it’s ‘the right thing to do’.

“It takes me full circle. I was that little girl standing in the free school meal queue, the only one out of my friends. There was a real sense of injustice, and here I am now helping to remove some of those injustices.”

Peter White, 57, is a Family Entrepreneur for Family Gateway

When Peter got constant headaches, his life began to unravel. He ended up having emergency surgery for a benign tumour that took two years to diagnose.

“I went from not having a day off work to two years of rehabilitation with a number of operations afterwards.”

Prior to the tumour, Peter ran a franchise for Hoover – as an engineer on vacuum cleaners and washing machines.

“My ex-wife’s alcoholism came to a head when I was in hospital,” Peter said. “When I was recovering, I was at home more after travelling all over with the franchise and could see what was going on. The alcohol issues drove us apart, we split up.”

When Peter came out of hospital, he decided he needed a job with less travel for his health.

“I trained as a mentor for young people experiencing difficulties with the youth offending team. I was progressing with them, then I took an opportunity as a key worker, helping people with Asperger’s and Autism live independently.”

His now ex-wife had a daughter, Peter’s step-daughter. She struggled with mental health issues and could no longer take care of her two young boys, who were aged two and six months at the time.

“She had borderline personality disorder and the two children were going to be taken into care, so I said I’d take them. I had to pack in my work. Although she was my step daughter, I still saw them as my grandchildren. I didn’t want them to suffer in the care system as I’d worked in that environment with the youth offenders’ team, and many of them were from broken families, raised in a harsh place.”

“I had to pack in my job due to having to take on the boys. I wasn’t given any direction for any kind of support, including financial support, from children’s services. After three years with no support, I was then given £30 a week for expenses, with no other income. I had to use my savings accumulated over many years of working. No financial assessments were carried out. I was struggling like hell. I was left penniless; I still had my house and that was about it. When they were old enough to go to

school, I thought I’d find myself a job. My grandsons were 5 and 7. It was during that time, I found out I should have got financial support. The school put me in touch with Family Gateway.”

The boys are now 14 and 12.

“The younger boy had a diagnosis of ADHD at a young age and had learning difficulties. I was trying to learn as I was going on.”

Before he got the guardianship, it was hard work, not related by blood, he had no parental responsibility. Peter applied for guardianship for the boys, after researching the options himself, so he could make important decisions regarding their education and healthcare.

“I was on my own, in my late forties, with two young boys, isolated from everybody and my dad was dying as well. So, I had a really traumatic time. A worker in that field helped me with a project at Family Gateway called the Lads and Dads, for single fathers.”

Family Gateway offered to put Peter on a couple of courses to help him get back to work.

“I grasped the opportunity. I wanted people not to suffer like I had. A role came up there as an independent support worker for the education and health care plans – for children with disabilities. So, I supported a number of families on that, then a role came up in Northumberland for a Family Entrepreneur, which is what I’m doing now.”

His lived experience and empathy were a strong driver.

“I bought a lot of experience to my job on how people were struggling. Currently, I’m working on a project for young people on the edge of crime, age 14-25. It’s my job to find them something to do and try and steer them away from crime. What I’m finding when I go into those homes, it’s not just the children, it’s the underlying causes.”

“The police asked me to take on a 9-year-old lad who had been placed in his grandparent’s care. The grandma was disabled, they didn’t have any money to look after this young child, and they’d had him for nine years. They were in the same position I was, with no financial assessments. So, I’m in the process now of getting them some funding. You see these things, and think no wonder the child is like that. He hasn’t got parents, and his grandparents can’t play football or afford to do anything with him.”

Peter finds out the root causes in families to help the children.

“Nine times out of ten, you go into their homes and their background is very similar to what I experienced. Broken families, mum might be alcohol or drug dependent, so they’re brought up as a single parent family or by grandparents.”

“I was asked to support a young grandmother by a school. She had adopted her grandson after his dad was murdered, and the mother became mentally ill. There had been no support put in place and she struggled for nine years with no financial support. I supported the family and managed to get her a £125 per week guardianship benefit, that she should have had years ago. She was so relieved and sent me a message saying, ‘I don’t have to say no to my grandson any more, this money is for him’.”

Peter says he wouldn’t be where he is today without the Lads and Dads support group at Family Gateway. Peter has now done his Level 5 in Health and Social Care, alongside a foundation degree.

The pandemic has left him busy.

“There’s more need now than ever. The area I’m in is quite a bad area at the moment, it’s full of broken families, with grandparents bringing up children with no money, they use all their savings and are left with an avalanche of debt. I try and change that for those people I work with.”

For Peter, Family Gateway set him on a path that not only saved him, but helps others stuck in similar situations as he was.

“I don’t know what position I’d be in without them, where my mental health would be, because I was isolated. They gave me the incentive to move on. And you get a lot of satisfaction helping people.”

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