This has been a landmark year for Action for Children. In March, we welcomed our new chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, and in June we celebrated the 145th anniversary of our very first service – a children’s home in London.
I commend all of the children, young people, parents and carers we helped through our 74 services in Scotland this year for having the courage and determination to transform their lives. As a charity, our hard work, innovation and celebration will continue into 2015 as the new chair of our Scotland committee, Kate Guthrie, takes the helm and we mark our own anniversary – 60 years since we opened our first Scottish service, also a children’s home, in Cathkin House in Rutherglen.
Action for Children has come a long way since those first children’s homes. We now offer a wide range of services – from parenting support in Stornoway, to our young carers’ project in the Borders; and from new services like West Lothian Housing Support, to Gilmerton Road, a much-loved project that offers short-break care for disabled children in Edinburgh. Gilmerton Road is undergoing significant renovation, and at 19 years old it is a good example of how our ever-evolving approach ensures that the needs of the most vulnerable in our society are met.
After all these years we do still run children’s homes; we have three in Moray. Christmas is a difficult time of year for these children and we do everything we can to ensure they enjoy it. Some return to their families for Christmas, so we always mark the big day twice to ensure that children who live together in our accommodation can celebrate together. We also have special grants to make sure that Santa visits everyone…
Our important work simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of people all across Scotland – people who volunteer with us, support our campaigns, make generous donations and take part in fundraising challenges. Believe me, 2014 was quite a year for fundraising!
We got off to a very silly start with our first-ever Giant Wiggle in March: children under the age of five celebrated the 45th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by taking part in a sponsored wiggle. In the same week we held our annual Woman of Influence Awards – there were plenty of social butterflies and not a caterpillar in sight! Kirsty Wark received the coveted award, and our own Kimberley Lowe was named the Young Woman of Influence. Kimberley stayed at our Dundee Youth Housing service after becoming homeless at the age of 16. She is now 21, has a flat of her own, is studying social work at Robert Gordon University and works with us as outreach worker. She is an inspiration.
In May, a group of young men from our Moving On services in Renfrewshire and Inverclyde took part in Yes Chef, a seven-week catering skills programme delivered by chefs from Grand Central Hotel, Chardon d’Or and Red Onion. These young men had all spent time in prison at an early age, and through Moving On we are supporting them to rebuild their lives. The service has impressive results – 85 per cent of the young people we work with do not return to prison, compared to a national average of 45 per cent. Following Yes Chef, two young men were offered jobs in restaurants and a third secured a Community Jobs Fund role with us. The young men helped raise £13,000 for Action for Children Scotland by preparing a meal for 200 discerning guests, and they were all delighted to give something back to the charity that has helped them.
It is impossible to talk about our dedicated supporters without mentioning Byte Night, an event which challenges business and tech professionals to sleep rough to raise money for our youth homelessness services. This year, 110 Scots braved truly awful weather in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park for one of the wettest Byte Nights on record, helping us raise more than £1 million across the UK.
We have achieved a lot this year, but sadly there is still more to be done. Our services are increasingly supporting children and families on issues such as depression and self-harm. We are committed to doing everything we can to stop situations getting worse – but we need people in Scotland to continue to support our vital work.
To find out more about how you can help Action for Children make 2015 a happy New Year for children in Scotland, please visit actionforchildren.org.uk.
• Carol Iddon is director of children’s services at Action for Children Scotland