“When we came across the Kids Matter content it felt like a real alignment of both values and practice, not just for Imagine If but for many of our partner organisations across the city. Working together was a no-brainer as we had all the contacts and Kids Matter had all the content – it’s a great collaboration!”
We recently caught up for a Q&A with James Sloane, Chief Executive of Imagine If, to hear all about the work they do in Liverpool.
Tell us a bit about your role/organisation?
I’m the CEO of Imagine If, a Christian charity based at Frontline Church in Liverpool. Our aims are to relieve poverty, promote education and strengthen families. All our projects contribute towards these three goals.
Founded in 2012, the charity was set up to accommodate all the social action projects that had been started by Frontline Church in Liverpool. The vision to separate these projects out was to enable them to gain greater independence, influence and impact.
We now run eight different events with a team of 18. Our projects range from housing, children and young people, through to family support and food provision, and we even have a partnership with churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo!
What is the need in Merseyside/Liverpool?
Liverpool is a vibrant, multicultural city with a rich history and a real community spirit. However, it’s also one of the most deprived cities in the UK with high rates of poverty.
Imagine If is situated in the Picton ward, which is characterised by high levels of need. Life expectancy is below the average for both Liverpool and England, while the percentage of children living in low-income households is above the average for Liverpool and England. According to government figures, more than 68,000 children in Liverpool are living below the breadline, with 18.4% of households in the Picton ward one-parent families (significantly higher than the UK average of 14.9%).
These issues conspire together to limit life chances and have a damaging effect on health and wellbeing for many families.
What are the biggest challenges for children and families facing disadvantages in Liverpool/Merseyside right now?
Firstly, the cost of living crisis has hit people hard here; we’ve heard multiple stories of parents having to miss meals or make do in cold homes over the winter months. Everyone has been squeezed, including charities, so there really is more demand on limited services.
Secondly, the knock-on effect of cost of living on mental health and the associated services has been huge, especially among young people. Most talking therapies or counselling services are booked up for months and there’s very little available acutely.
Finally, we’ve seen a huge challenge for good quality, affordable housing in the city. Many families are stuck with private landlords, who don’t look after the properties and demand above average rent for poor quality housing. It’s something we’re exploring with our partners Green Pastures; even if we can help a handful of families, it will be worth it!
How are you meeting this need through the specific work you are doing?
All Imagine If projects have been birthed through passionate people seeing a need in the local community. For instance, Sticky Fingers Playgroup started when several mums realised that there was nowhere locally for families with young children to meet. They started to get together while their children played, and then went on to invite others from the local community. This has resulted in one of the largest toddler groups in Liverpool with a Facebook community of over 2,000 members, and an average of 300 kids across our six sessions each week.
A few years ago, one of our staff responded to comments from local families who said they needed help with budgeting and needed a shop that provided more affordable goods. This resulted in a change in the way food was given out, transferring from a food bank model where basic provisions are given out to those needing emergency help, to a food hub model where members pay a monthly subscription and choose from a wider range of products. The food hub has a variety of advantages over the food bank model, namely that it is more sustainable. It is also conducive to building self-esteem as members are able to contribute financially, which alleviates the shame often felt when asking for and receiving handouts.
Service users in each project are encouraged to share their experiences, and their comments and suggestions are used to ensure that each initiative Democratic Republic of Congo (visit our website to find out more about our partners in the DRC, and why we provide support in a region so far from home). We have food, housing, childcare, emotional support, practical support and guidance but more than all these things, people hope. Hope for a brighter future, hope that things can get better and hope that they are not alone no matter what they face.
What led you to partner with Kids Matter and how does this partnership help meet the need?
We have hosted and facilitated parenting courses for many years using many different resources but never found a model that suited our demographic. Over the last two years we’ve been working with Safe Families and are supporting many low-income, low-support families, and parenting is often an area that is identified as needing further support. When we came across the Kids Matter content it felt like a real alignment of both values and practice, not just for Imagine If but for many of our partner organisations across the city. Working together was a no-brainer as we had all the contacts and Kids Matter had all the content – it’s a great collaboration!
What else needs to happen to meet the need? (What would you like to see more of?)
There’s a vast amount of need; at times it can feel overwhelming. I think we have to stay focused on what can be done and celebrate the small wins. I think there’s huge benefit in having a wholistic/long-term perspective on poverty relief and issues of social justice. What we do now impacts future generations. For me, this means we hold what we have lightly and we’re not too precious to let things stop or give things away if it’s to the benefit of those we serve.
What are you most excited about?
I’m excited to get our partnership with Kids Matter up and running! We’ve been in talks for nearly a year now so this is an exciting moment to be launching a pioneering partnership that could pave the way for others across the country. I can’t wait to see the first cohort of parents sitting in a room together, sharing experiences and using the material to strengthen each other and provide mutual support. If we want to see our towns and cities transform, then it has to start with simple acts of kindness as we come alongside those most in need. My hope is that this partnership and these programmes would do just that!
To find out more about Imagine If, visit Imagineiftrust.org