For Glory Uhunarabona, the thought of Christmas approaching is not a happy one. The single mother of four has had to cancel her children’s swimming lessons and seek help for buying school uniform and food because money is so tight.
The 44-year-old said: “Christmas is coming but I am panicking because the finances are not there.”
A short walk from Glory’s home in Bermondsey is the Salmon Youth Centre, which helps 500 children from disadvantaged backgrounds every week and has provided a lifeline for her family for 10 years.
The Salmon Youth Centre is one of the community organisations that will be eligible to benefit from our On the Breadline Christmas appeal via our partnership with The Childhood Trust, which funds groups helping disadvantaged children in London. Our appeal – with sister title the Evening Standard – has also partnered with Comic Relief.
For just 50p each, Glory’s children, aged 7, 11, 12 and 17, are able to eat a hot meal after school and take part in activities, including rock climbing, basketball, art and trampolining – things otherwise out of reach.
Glory, who works part-time as a school kitchen assistant, was forced to spend almost a year sleeping in her living room with her four children because of problems with mould and leaks. She described the centre as a “refuge”.
Another mother, Samantha (not her real name), said that without the centre, her children would be at risk of gangs. She has recently started using a food bank and to make ends meet she has had to stop her four children, aged three to 12, from playing computer games and watching television to save electricity.
The hallway light, which used to be kept on all night to help the children see their way to the toilet, is now kept off – and the children no longer change into clean clothes after school every day, to cut back on washing.
“Even the price of paracetamol has gone up,” she said: “I told my children no one is allowed to be sick in this house. The children are only allowed to do their homework on the computer and not play games.
“It was difficult to get them into this routine, but I showed them the bills and they understood. My son is careful and tells his siblings to turn things off, but it makes me sad. They are kids and shouldn’t be worrying about bills.”
The 48-year-old single mother said she used to pay £1,000 for electricity and gas but now the bill is £2,800. “I am scared to do the latest meter reading,” Samantha said. She previously worked in a bank but was forced to leave due to ill health. The family has around £300 a week to live on.
Samantha added: “I have no money to buy Christmas presents. It is worse than last year when at least I could buy little things, but there is no money left. Last week my daughter was crying for two hours.
She said, ‘We are broke, look where we are living, you can’t even afford to buy me an LOL doll’. “I told her, ‘yes, we are broke now, but it doesn’t mean we will be broke forever’.”
The children who attend Salmon Youth Centre are offered top-class facilities. The Tardis-like building houses a full-size basketball court, a climbing wall with views of the Shard, a dance studio and a warren of rooms where children have art lessons, academic tutoring, counselling, do homework, play pool or just hang out with friends. Fresh hot food is cooked on the premises.
But it goes beyond after-school activities – the centre helps families who need food or have housing problems and they organise Christmas presents for youngsters who would otherwise have none.
Children pay 50p to attend and sometimes youngsters come in with handfuls of coins to make up the entrance fee.
Sam Adofo, director of the centre, said that if staff see someone struggling to pay, they create an instant prize, such as “member of the month” so they can come in free.
“I recently went to the door and saw a mother counting out 50p in pennies,” he said. “You know things are not good when you see that. Some children come to our centre just to eat and then go home without taking part in activities.
“That has never happened before. These are young people with caring responsibilities at home so they normally cannot stay out, but now they come here for food first and then go home.”
Sally (not her real name), a full-time carer and mother of four children who all used the centre, said she was struggling but did not want pity.
She receives £645 a month in universal credit, but pays £520 in rent, £40 on water, £50 council tax and £50 electricity. Her disabled daughter’s PIP (personal independence payment) funding is used to buy food for the family.
Sally said: “I used to get enough food to last a month but now it runs out after a few weeks. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a roast dinner on a Sunday.
“But I am a proud person and even though my circumstances are hard, I don’t want people to look at me and think, ‘Oh bless her.’ But truth is, I am not living, I am barely surviving. I eat my children’s leftovers.”
APPEAL IN A NUTSHELL
Our Cost of Living Christmas Appeal, On the Breadline, has partnered with Comic Relief and The Childhood Trust, a charity that helps children in poverty in London. Comic Relief has pledged £1M to our appeals and The Childhood Trust has pledged £500k and is asking readers to match it.
Donations made into our partnership with The Childhood Trust will be given out in grants to organisations that help children in poverty in London. Donations made into our partnership with Comic Relief will go to organisations across the UK (including London) helping people on the breadline of all ages cope with the cost of living.
How you can help
To donate to the Childhood Trust appeal, click here.
To help children affected by the cost of living crisis who live in London, donate here.
To help children and communities affected by the cost of living crisis wherever they live in the UK, donate here.