We are all Daniel Blake

We are all Daniel Blake

Tash Bright No Comment

I was one of the many thousands of people who, in the last week, cried in the cinema watching I, Daniel Blake. I watched the film from a position of privilege: in good health, full time employment and having never lived in poverty. In the queue, I moaned about a sandwich that I had bought earlier and soon felt ashamed of my #firstworldproblem.

If you haven’t seen I, Daniel Blake yet, I urge you to do so. For me, it was an important reminder about other people’s realities and that not everyone has the same opportunities that I have, and that sometimes things go wrong, whether this is health, job loss, family problems, lack of support and education… the list goes on.

After the film, I started thinking about the NowThen campaign Fairness on the 83. If you aren’t familiar with it, please see their website here. The campaign focussed around the inequalities and deprivation in Sheffield, and how radically that differs on the 83 bus route. At one end, there are people living in the top 1% most deprived in the country, and the other, the bottom 10%. I think that is really hard to get your head around, and it hadn’t struck me that there are so many people in Sheffield who are living in absolute poverty, but this was confirmed in a conversation I had with one of our Future Shapers Mentors at Sheffield Futures.

Future Shapers Mentors work in all secondary schools in Sheffield. They work with young people who have been identified as being at risk of becoming Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). These young people receive tailored support, from their own personal Mentor. This programme is pretty unique as it allows young people to do things on their own terms, they aren’t given a prescribed course where each week they have to participate in something that they do not want to do, but instead they lead the way and work with the Mentor to achieve at school and life. Sometimes this means simply attending school, at other times it means building their confidence to ask when they don’t understand something, it can even mean gaining a volunteer placement or apprenticeship.

The reason we don’t have a set route with young people, is that we know that one size does not fit all. We also know that it’s impossible to know what goes on behind closed doors. The Mentor told me that his job is “an eye opener, it’s shocking when you find out discover the real reason why someone isn’t attending school, or why they don’t have the confidence to ask questions in class.”

“The kids I work with are all in their school uniforms, they make an effort to wear the right things and fit in with their classmates, it’s almost impossible to tell what their living situation is. The uniform is deceiving, but it’s also so important to them to not stand out, or draw attention to the fact that their shoes don’t fit them anymore.”

One particular poignant scene in the film depicts a mother who has not eaten as she wanted to feed her family and she’s desperately hungry. I was shocked to find out that, in Sheffield, some of the teenagers Sheffield Futures work with “just don’t eat when they’re not at school, they rely on free school meals so they end up going hungry in the school holidays.”

Some of the young people we support have to share small living spaces with their families. “One of the girls I work with shares a bedroom with her mum, she has no privacy, space or comfort. She’s started spending more time outside and not at home, meaning she’s much more vulnerable to exploitation. Of course you wouldn’t know this to look at her.”

“Others have accommodation, they have homes, but no money for food or carpets for the floors.”

For many of the young people we work with, home life can be chaotic. “Everyone has a different story, one of the boys I work with had to leave home because he thought it was unbearable to stay, he sofa-surfed for a while, had no money to attend school and wasn’t anywhere long enough to shower or eat a proper meal for five days.”

 “It’s a massive achievement for some that they’ve even made it in to school.” In school, the structured day allows teenagers to leave their worries at the door. The Mentors work in schools with young people, on a one-to-one basis, offering much needed support.

“Talking helps to alleviate some of the daily worries and stress that they’re carrying around. As we talk one-to-one, they know they can share their problems and won’t get in trouble for telling it how they see it. Young people need support, and when they reach out, they need it immediately. Often services don’t have the resources to offer support if a young person doesn’t engage with their programme, so that’s why Future Shapers works, we’re in the schools, we can be where they are, when they need us. Everyone’s needs are different, we should all take the time to listen, find out what those needs are and learn how to address them.”

How you can help

Our charity is dedicated to helping Sheffield's young people to reach their full potential and achieve the best out of life, whatever their starting point. To help us to do more to support young people and communities we need your help. Just remember, every penny you donate will make a difference.