Written by Scott Campbell, Cumbernauld Media's Senior Reporter.
Published at 22:50 on 17 November 2015
CHRISTMAS for most is supposed to be time of happiness, togetherness and family. For thousands across Scotland, however, the occasion is marked by cold temperatures, a lack of food, a feeling of loneliness, and the search for a place to stay.
For 29,326 people, Christmas is not a time of face-paced songs about Santa and snowmen; nor is it an occasion for unwrapping gifts, and spending time with family. For 29,326 people in Scotland, Christmas can be, and is one of the worst times of the year.
That’s because, in Scotland, 29,326 people will spend Christmas homeless. In North Lanarkshire, 1,418 households have been assessed as ‘homeless’, by North Lanarkshire Council, with Cumbernauld boasting some of the council’s most deprived areas.
One such area is Carbrain. It suffers from more deprivation than most, with parts of the community scoring in the worst 15%, 10% and 5% of the Scottish Index for Multiple Deprivation, in 2012, meaning that Carbrain is one of the most deprived communities in the whole of Scotland.
For youngsters at Carbrain Primary School, however, these figures serve as motivation. Not to debate the issues surrounding the collection of poverty data but rather to do something to help.
Students of Miss Kirk’s primary six at Carbrain Primary School, in Millcroft Road, have organised a Christmas fundraising drive, which aims to provide poorer families with toys over the festive season.
Titled ‘Give the Gift of Happiness this Christmas’, the pupils’ campaign has already gotten off to the strong start, with a JustGiving page set up by the school pupils smashing their £250 fundraising target within days.
Visiting the kind-hearted pupils on Tuesday (17th November), Cumbernauld Media learned more about the fundraising drive, which the kids hope the public will get behind, as Christmas draws closer.
Funding target “broken within days”.
10-year-old class member David described to us how their initial fundraising drive on JustGiving was only just £250 – a target “broken with within days”, Miss Kirk, the class’s teacher commented, raising £280 so far, with 20 days left in the campaign, students Jade and Elise explained.
Putting on a professional presentation for our reporter and photographer, class members Jade, Elise and Rebecca walked us through the background to their campaign, and explained more about how people could get involved, and why they should consider doing so.
“Poverty is the lack of basic necessities,” Jade explained. Elise described how she and her class mates had been “inspired by the book Mr Stink to help make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.”
Rebecca was the final presenter. She explained to us how the class contacted Bethlehem House of Bread foodbank, and fundraising group Cumbernauld Against Poverty to establish a working partnership for a joint collection campaign.
“We messaged Cumbernauld foodbank, and Cumbernauld Against Poverty, asking them to help us,” Rebecca said.
She added: “They both came out and gave us a good presentation about what they do, and Norma from the foodbank explained the sort of things they were looking for as donations, such as food, clothes, blankets, and toiletries, etc.”
Explaining more about how the idea went from a thought into action, Rebecca described how the class made up posters to promote their fundraising drive throughout the school, while “the class wrote to loads of local businesses” appealing for their support.
Inspiration from Mr Stink book.
When we asked about the inspiration of the campaign, Matthew put his hand up. He explained to us the story of Mr Stink and of how the main character Chloe “sees Mr Stink everyday on the bus ride to school”.
He conveyed the book’s main message of inter-human respect and dignity by telling us more about how the novel’s story develops, with Chloe “offering Mr Stink money; money which he refuses for himself but uses to buy food for his dog.”
The plot deepens, Matthew explained, when it is found out that Chloe’s mother only seems to care about her image, with her dream of being a future Prime Minister always getting in the way of reality.
David and Jack, two other members of Miss Kirk’s class, picked up where Matthew left off, and explained to us how Chloe’s mum wanted to “drag Mr Stink off the street”, though eventually her hostility was replaced with understanding when she “met him”, Rachel and Siobhan explained.
The book – part of the Carbrain Primary School primary 6 curriculum – formed the basis of the pupils’ current fundraising drive, which their teacher – Emma Kirk – told us was “child-led”.
Campaign “born out of literacy teaching.”
“When we started back after the summer holidays, we decided to do a class novel study, so it was all born out of literary teaching,” Emma, the class teacher explained to us as we chatted during the morning break, and the kids played outside in the playground.
She described how the class “chose a David Walliams novel because we thought that the kids would all adore his stuff, as it’s really funny, we can back it up with additional forms of media, such as the dramatization of Mr Stink.”
“We studied the book and the kids said ‘that’s a shame that some people don’t have houses’, and started to ask questions like ‘what help is out there for people who are in that situation. So we looked at our community, and started to ask about what support, if any, existed to support people living in poverty in Cumbernauld, and we did a bit of research, and that’s how we found the foodbank and Cumbernauld Against Poverty,” she explained.
“After inviting both the foodbank and Cumbernauld Against Poverty to talk to us, we asked whether we could work together to form a year-long partnership so we could help; and when they came in to talk to us, it was the kids who said ‘Well, what about Christmas presents’, so it’s all been child-led.
“They came up with the whole concept, and we started to look at what we could do to help people who don’t have enough money to buy a Christmas dinner, let alone Christmas presents for their children,” Emma said.
Explaining more about how the campaign has gone from strength to strength so far, the mother-of-three described how her class had “made up posters and put them up everywhere in the school to raise awareness”, with their campaign “raised at assembly” and a letter being “sent out to every pupils’ family”.
Questioned about the support received to date, Emma commented: “Support has been very good to date. We’ve had Jamie Hepburn, the SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth in the school, and we’ve also had his colleague Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East in too, to learn more about our campaign.
“Every class in the school has been sent their own pack, which asks them to design a Christmas card, with sales of the winning card design going to be going towards our campaign,” she added.
Carbrain kids are “living this reality”.
Showing us some of the latest items donated to the school’s toy donation campaign, the primary teacher explained how 25 bags full of toys were collected by Bethlehem House of Bread last week – a collection Emma labelled “wonderful”.
She added, however, that her pupils are “living this reality”.
“It’s a fact – the demographics of Carbrain show that the area has some dense communities of poverty and pockets of deprivation. So it’s nice to see peoples’ generous spirit to give what they can to help those who are worse off, this Christmas,” Emma said.
Going on to talk to us about what sort of items the school were looking for, and how anybody wishing to help can get involved, Emma explained that she and her class are “mainly looking for children’s gifts,” adding that “although it’s lovely to get second hand stuff, and we’d still give this to the foodbank to give out to people – we are specifically looking for new, unopened, unused toys, so that the children opening them on Christmas Day feel worth a brand new gift – they deserve that.
“It can be a grand gift; it can be a small gift; it can be something from the pound shop. We’ll take them in, non-wrapped, and we’ll wrap them and send them to the foodbank in time for their Christmas campaign, which gives us until December 16th to get donations in.
“People can donate toys directly to the school; they can just come to the office and hand them in; they can send the toys in with children coming to the school; or, alternatively, they can make a monetary donation via our JustGiving page, and we’ll go and buy gifts with that money,” Emma added.
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