News & Events

Mrs Cook’s Blog

One of the most significant features of working in a school, particularly as a non-teacher, is the cyclical nature of events and activities. Daily, weekly, termly, yearly; school life ebbs and flows and the passage of time is regularly marked with events that bring back memories of years and girls that came before. It is a privilege to witness the many rich learning experiences that Croydon High girls participate in and to see first-hand what a positive impact these occasions can have on them.

Early March for me means the Sixth Form Conference, in association with the National Council of Young Women, which always falls around International Women’s Day. Much like the new blossom already budding on the fruit trees outside, the event never fails to elicit feelings of hope and anticipation for a brighter future! And this year was no exception.

Our theme for this, our 7th annual Conference was Humanising Homelessness; the goal was to enlighten our delegates, including our own Sixth Form, as well as sixth formers from a number of local schools, about the many and complex issues that surround what we described as Our Big Issue. Society’s response to homelessness is undoubtedly one of the most challenging problems this generation will have to face. As always, the topic was chosen by the current Marketing Prefect who this year is Siena. Siena’s inspiration initially came from her work on her EPQ, looking at the building process of schools in developing countries. Siena interviewed Croydon High alumna, Christine Black, who works to provide homes, education and unconditional help to abandoned and orphaned children in Kenya through a charity called the Eusabia Hope Foundation.

Siena’s reaction to the challenges faced by the charity was typical, of her and of most of the Croydon High girls I have had the pleasure of working with; she wanted to DO something. So she took it on herself to arrange a collection of second hand uniform from our own Junior School and to send it out to Kenya. In her own words, Siena was overwhelmed by the gratitude she received for what she saw as such a small action. I suspect it won’t be the last ‘small action’ Siena takes on behalf of this charity.

As well as action, Siena’s meeting with the Eusabia Hope Foundation provoked thoughts, about the importance of home and all that it represents and this is what led to our Conference topic. When devising the programme, we wanted to present a broad picture of the impact of homelessness in other cultures and countries as well as the very stark reality close to our own homes. One of our speakers, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, made a particular impression on one of our Lower Sixth students, Josie …

Josie says “After the super Humanising Homelessness NCYW Conference last Friday, I have been extremely inspired by one speaker in particular, Frank Kalume. Frank was once a refugee fleeing war-torn Congo and seeking refuge in a safer country. He had many problems with housing coming into the UK and finally found a suitable home. Frank has just recently graduated from Sheffield University with a BA in architecture after completing his social housing project. This project was to build a housing scheme which is designed to ease refugees’ integration into a new society. It helps them adapt to a new environment and lifestyle while providing spaces that encourages interaction with the community to help them feel welcomed and at home. The modern space he created is cost effective, sustainable and also provides home for elderly people alongside refugees to encourage integration and a sense of community while allowing both sides to learn about new cultures, traditions and give everyone a friendly and united community.

I lived in South Africa for five years of my life and often went into my mum’s work where she taught English to refugees. Hearing their incredible yet sometimes horrific stories and seeing their willingness to learn and integrate into a society that is sometimes so hostile toward them was extremely eye opening and moving. These stories, and Frank’s project, have inspired me to write a petition campaigning for Frank’s project to be noticed by Eoghan Murphy (Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government) and Caroline Nokes (Minister for State of Immigration) to make a positive change in our society so that the UK is more welcoming to refugees and those in dire need.

Frank was once a refugee like many others before and to come. I want to help change their lives and give them a sense of belonging, a shelter, a community. A home.”

Other speakers, from homeless charities Croydon Nightwatch, Croydon Churches Floating Shelter and Glass Door also inspired with stories of individuals and the organisations that work with them. It was clear to see from their reactions and the thoughtful questions posed by the young delegates, that this was an issue they took very seriously. Representatives from Croydon Council spoke about the reality of the situation in Croydon with one statistic striking a very powerful chord.

Esha, also in the Lower Sixth, explained her reaction to this. “It was an absolute honour to listen speakers from charities such as: Glass Door, Croydon Nightwatch and Expert Link who shared their personal stories and experiences. It raised my level of awareness about the contemporary issues of homelessness which ironically is so close to home. The statistic that echoed this for me was on the 7th March 2019, 930 children in Croydon were in emergency accommodation – either bed & breakfast or housing arranged by the Council (for example a mum and two children sharing a bedroom with living space). I found this staggering. I left the conference feeling inspired and ready to make a difference.”

Plans are already in place for an assembly to spread the messages learned from the Conference and raise badly needed funds for the charities represented. Mrs Abrams’ awesome Amnesty Group are keen to invite Frank back to address their inaugural Amnesty Conference in the autumn. We are thinking about how we can support the Croydon Floating Churches with food donations next winter; some of the girls have asked where they can volunteer. Milla another of our Lower Sixth delegates, was inspired to share her own personal response to the event which you can read in this week’s News Links and the charity Glass Door have asked if they can share her words with their volunteers and partners.

I feel sure that Siena, Josie, Esha and Milla and many of their peers will take the messages and the stories they heard last Friday and use them to help shape their responses and their thinking in whatever walk of life they find themselves. As our final speaker – someone who had faced the reality of homelessness himself – pointed out, it is possible that in the future one or more of these young people may find themselves homeless. If we learned anything from the day, it was certainly that homelessness can happen to anyone. What is even more likely however, is that the majority of the young people there will actually find themselves in jobs or situations where they can and will make a real difference to those around them, those who have not enjoyed the same opportunities that they have. The doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, civil servants etc. of the future will have enormous challenges to face. We can only hope that their actions will be informed by the sort of open-minded and informed debate, the empathy and the willingness to take action that is so much a part of the life of this school.

Fran Cook

Director of Marketing

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