PCiP – BREAKING THE CYCLE
Poverty is a brutal predator. It strangles its prey, squeezing our every last drop of their hope and vitality. Even worse, in England (where the traditional British stiff upper-lip is still very much utilised by many), much of the poverty in our country is hidden or masked by pride or shame. The cold hard fact is that some of the people that we pass when we walk down the street are caught in the vicious cycle that poverty brings of debt, fear and depression. Sadly, poverty’s grip is vice-like, often permeating family trees and infusing geographical locations.
However, in Plymouth – a city well versed in some of these struggles – a small but passionate group of people have decided that enough is enough and are aiming to break the cycle of poverty that exists in parts of the city that they live in and love. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the amazing team who are running the Plymouth Children in Poverty (PCiP) campaign – Adam Croney, Roger Pipe, Steve Patey and Charlie Jones.
Their journey started in early 2018, when Adam, Steve and Charlie were all working at PwC (Adam has since moved to Thomas Westcott and Charlie has joined Wolferstans Solicitors). Charlie attended an event run by The Bank of England and Roger was one of the speakers there, representing Millfields Trust – a social enterprise that exists to work for the good of the Stonehouse area of Plymouth. Stonehouse has, for a number of years, suffered some of the worst effects of deprivation in Plymouth with significant challenges in education, teenage pregnancies, unemployment and crime.
MINDS COME TOGETHER
Roger spoke at that event about the mission of Millfields Trust and Charlie came away inspired and challenged. The social enterprises’ commitment to break the deprivation cycle – both causes and symptoms – struck a chord with Charlie along with their ethos of sustainable change and social renewal. Upon her return to the office, Charlie couldn’t help but tell her colleagues Adam and Steve about what she had just heard.
“Charlie was moved by what she had heard and told us that we had to do something about the issues shared by Roger. She felt that there was a need to raise awareness about the fact that if someone grows up in certain areas of the city, then their actual life expectancy will be ten years lower than that of people living in other parts of the city.”
That sort of stark statistic communicates the scale and size of the challenges that face certain communities with Plymouth, but also serves as the kind of simple ‘hook’ that gives people a way of understanding what can sometimes be complex or seemingly insurmountable issues. After all, the more that people feel like a problem can be solved, the more it is likely to be.
The timing of this discussion couldn’t have been more perfect as the PwC team were bang in the middle of considering an alternative approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Adam explained,
“I had grown a bit cynical about CSR as it often felt like it was more focused on the organisation concerned angling for glory and attention than the cause they were supporting. We wanted to be more authentic and impactful and avoid ticking boxes or meeting quotas when it came to our activity within our community.”
“There are a lot of great things being done by Social Enterprises, Charities or Non-Profits. There is also a lot of great work that corporates are doing. However, many of those corporates are simply not aware of some of the true issues within the communities around them as they exist in areas that they don’t drive through and on streets that they don’t walk down. They don’t spend time there or know anyone who lives there. They simply don’t see it.”
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
So, with an aligned vision and passion to make a difference, Adam, Steve, Charlie and Roger met and started talking in more depth about how they might galvanise local businesses to think, act and collaborate together. As that very same business community already met regularly at networking events, did business together and knew each other relatively well, there was a strong initial platform on which these social and community issues could be raised.
And so Plymouth Children in Poverty (PCiP) was born. Although being started by three people at PwC, it was never meant to be about the firm. In fact, the campaign is all the more beautiful now that it continues to go from strength to strength despite Adam and Charlie having moved to other firms. This proves that PCiP was and is about a group of people getting together behind a cause, rather than one particular firm achieving its CSR goals or gaining some positive press.
By this point it was March 2018 and PCiP held its launch event, with an aim to get 100 people in a room to listen to some of the leading voices from the community and from organisations who could provide the services required for those in need. The selfless ethos of PCiP was evident at this launch event where, again, no corporate logos were displayed or even talked about.
At this event, an expert from the dental profession poured out a large bucket full of beads onto the floor and told the room,
“That is how many teeth have been extracted from children under the age of five in our city so far this year, due to poor dental hygiene.”
Adam described this as a sobering and emotive moment that somewhat floored the room. Although slightly awkward, it is sometimes necessary to uncover and put on display some of the inequalities and injustices of our society. When that is done in the right way, it is often the catalyst for action and change.
So, the campaign was launched and a working party formed to drive it forward. It was decided early on that they didn’t want to ‘parachute’ into struggling communities and solve all of the problems themselves. Roger explained,
“Part of sustainable change being achieved is empowering people within communities to be a part of the change themselves. If an organisation arrives with a large bung of money or big promises for social reform, often locals will see them as ‘knights in shining armour’ and a disconnect is formed – an ‘us’ and ‘them’ which is unhealthy and flawed.”
So, for example, one of the internal structures in place in the PCiP campaign is that they will only run projects that have five years funding confirmed and secured. Anything less than that and they perceive there to be a risk of funding issues getting in the way of sustainably delivering the much needed services and projects within the community.
Since that launch event, the team of PCiP volunteers (yes, that’s right, the whole team volunteer their time free of charge and still have busy and demanding jobs too) have gone about building a website, launching social media channels, sourcing initial funding, securing corporate donations and launching their first three projects.
The first project is centred around highlighting some of Plymouth’s most vulnerable children in the care system and funding them through the incredible National Citizen Service (NCS) programme. As someone who has seen first-hand the restorative and developmental capacity of the NCS programme, I can wholeheartedly say that this is a hugely worthwhile and impactful project.
Secondly, they are working to complement and expand the work that Millfields Trust (and their charity Millfields Inspired) is already doing. Started 10 years ago, the social enterprise links those being educated in deprived areas with the world of work. For example, they work with Year 5 students from seven schools in Plymouth and introduce them to some of the leading organisations and firms in the area including Foot Anstey, Dental School and the National Marine Aquarium to name a few. Here they learn about the work that those organisations do and the pathways into those industries.
The underpinning work of Millfields Inspired is to enthuse young people and get them thinking outside of the box (and the narratives that they have inherited from their families as, often, there are whole families who don’t work and where a poverty mindset is passed from generation to generation). Both the kids and parents are invited to a graduation at the end of the year where students wear mortar-boards and receive certificates. This can be a powerful experience for all involved as the dreams and aspirations of those students and their families are fanned into flame.
And, thirdly, in partnership with Two Four Productions, PCiP are producing corporate videos to show in schools that are located in deprived areas. The aim is to raise the aspirations of children early on in their secondary school journey and inspire them that it is possible for them to succeed at school and after they leave school. Connecting the dots of education and employment is one of the major strategies to break the cycle of poverty in Plymouth.
Clearly, to deliver these projects, funds are required, However, to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and incurring unnecessary overheads, PCiP has decided to channel all of their funding through the Plymouth Drake Foundation – a registered charity and grant-awarding organisation who ring-fence PCiP funds. The PCiP team wished to extend particular thanks to Darin Halifax (Senior Policy Advisor at Plymouth City Council) as well as Arthur Ainslie and Maurice West from the Plymouth Drake Foundation. Without the hard work and vision of these individuals, the PCiP dream could not have become a reality.
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO GET INVOLVED
So, how can people get on board and help with the great work that PCiP are doing? Most obviously, people can give their time, money or energy to the current projects that they are running. Long-term, PCiP want to create a variety of plug-in points so that people can get involved in any way they wish.
“There is such power in a large number of people giving not a lot. It adds up to one massive impact. If we could mobilise 1000 people to give £5, that would be a lot more impactful than one or two people giving £2500 each. That sense of collective momentum and communal action is a powerful and exciting thing. Such incredible things can be achieved when you get a group of people all pulling in the same direction.”
And clearly this process has begun as Plymouth City Council have recently published their Child Poverty Action Plan for 2019-2022 and refer to PCiP as being the only other external body that they support who are addressing issues surround child poverty. This gives significant recognition and credibility to PCiP and the work they have done in the last 18 months.
“There is an immediate problem. We cannot sit back and watch the next generation wither on the vine. Of course there is a need to tackle root causes too – to help future generations – but we can’t ignore the issues right in front of us, right now. We are committed to pursuing better outcomes and prospects for the children in our city.”
“Plymouth has a proud history and a strong sense of identity. With stunning natural surroundings, amazing Georgian architecture, lots of lush green space and significant inward investment, there is real opportunity to push on and work towards a more positive future. We want to play our part in creating a virtuous circle – a city helping itself with local people empowered to take responsibility and be a part of the change.”
If their vision and mission continue to be actioned, PCiP stand to become one of the leading change agents in Plymouth and, hopefully, beyond as the years roll by. By starting to tackle issues surrounding education, employment, societal renewal and community reform, they are literally changing lives and communities one person at a time. In partnership with other key local stakeholders, their intention is to work tirelessly and selflessly towards a preferred future rather than look with hopelessness at the past and present challenges of their city. How can you not be moved and stirred by that?
Adam, Roger, Steve, Charlie and all others involved with PCiP give their time voluntarily and are clearly passionate and envisioned when it comes to their cause. May they see the fruit of their labour and start to see the city that they clearly love start to be renewed and restored.
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos supplied by PCiP