School pitches ideas to tackle Reading homelessness

Ideas to help tackle homelessness were investigated by enterprising students when the whole school worked off curriculum all day on a community project.

Volunteers from Reading homeless charity Launchpad and ReadiBank Foodbank came in to support the day, taking the time to talk to students about what local homelessness and food poverty looks like, some of its causes and, importantly, where people can turn to if they do run into financial or emotional difficulties.

As well as being set the challenge how can we support the homeless back into work, the day also served as a fundraiser, with students paying to ‘dress down,’ enjoying a cake sale, throwing wet sponges at their teachers (they loved this!) and donating food to ReadiBank. Cash raised on the day amounted to a fantastic £468.79, with a further £80 donated by Cisco. The money will go to ReadiBank.

The STEM-focused school regularly runs drop-down days, where the students spend the entire day working in teams on a project designed to build up their employability skills, but this one, which took place on Thursday 1 December, was special in that it had a community twist. The students showed they are very aware of the cost-of-living crisis their families are dealing with right now, and demonstrated a great deal of empathy, as well as a strong desire to help those in dire financial circumstances.

Kirsti Wilson from homeless charity Launchpad Reading was impressed with students’ keenness to learn more about the problem of homelessness, which is sadly on the rise in Reading, as well as countrywide – in fact more than 200,000 households across the UK are currently experiencing homelessness.

Kirsti was keen to point out that homelessness isn’t just the person you see slumped in a shop doorway, but that it’s a much wider issue.

“Homeless people can look just like you or me,” she said. “So that could be a businessman whose relationship has broken down who is sleeping in a friend’s garage, or a family who are struggling with the cost of living and facing eviction. We’re all aware of how fragile everything is right now with the cost-of-living crisis. So this a great way of getting kids thinking about their community, and also making them aware of the help on offer should anybody they know need it.”

With this in mind, the students were presented with their challenge: working in small groups, how can we support the homeless back into the world of work?

They were asked to assign roles within their teams – designer, project manager, team leader etc – and then to produce an idea or product. They then needed to work on a business plan – ready to present to our ‘dragons’.

Said dragons were five UTC Reading alumni, currently forging ahead in their careers in companies such as Cisco and Stantec, who kindly volunteered their time.

“Days like this are really valuable, I remember, so I was happy to help,” said James Carter, currently in his third year as a degree apprentice at Stantec. “Not only does it get you to think creatively in terms of business ideas, but it gives you something real to talk about in an interview. So you can talk about ‘when I was project manager at school on this project, we came up with such and such idea, and I achieved this – so it’s something that makes you stand out.”

Having listened to the students’ ideas, each ‘dragon’ picked their favourite team, who were then invited back to present their ideas in front of the judging panel. The fabulous ideas included a homeless community hub and hotel in the former Reading Prison; a place to nurture business talent in studios funded by food sales; donated outfits for interviews; and an app that brought all the homeless support available locally together.

The winning team however was the Professional Qualification Council – PQC – who came up with the great idea of offering free or low-cost training in IT professional qualifications (qualifications that prove the trainee is up to date with technical roles and requirements).

PQC’s idea was that the training could initially be offered by a major company such as Microsoft, before being run by volunteers. The team produced a detailed business plan with costings.

“The idea is to provide homeless people who already have a formal education with the necessary qualifications that may have been holding them back from getting a well-paid job,” explained PQC team member Zahra (other team members were Stephanie, Rishabh, Sam, Cameron, Thomaz and Josh.)

The judges – Caitlin Sutherland, James Carter,  Ben Lewis, Sam Hastings and Josh Mabbs – didn’t spare feelings and grilled all of the teams on the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals. They liked all the ideas, they heard, but the simplicity and originality of PQC’s one just won out.

“I think it’s a great idea, and one that could potentially even be run by UTC Reading student volunteers,” said judge Ben Lewis.

Zahra from winning team PQC, who were rewarded with chocolate prizes, had this to say: “We think it’s a good idea but it’s still as surprise to win.”

Speaking about the Community Project Day, Executive Principal Jonathon Nichols said: “This is what I love about UTC’s and in particular UTC Reading. Project-based learning at its best, focusing on solving a very real-world problem by connecting, working in teams, enabling diversity of thought and creating innovative solutions to big problems. The solutions to many of the world’s greatest problems could be in the minds of the children in our schools right now. We have a duty to give them the opportunity and environment to release those solutions and work together to solve these global challenges.”

  • Launchpad is a Reading homelessness prevention charity, providing vital information and support for individuals, couples and families who don’t have a stable place to live or are at risk of losing their home. See their website or call them on 0118 950 7656 if you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one.
  • ReadiFood currently deliver over 140 emergency food parcels every week to families and individuals across the greater Reading area. Visit their website for details on how to get a referral, how to donate or how to volunteer.
  • Students are reminded that volunteering looks great on a CV when applying for university or jobs.

Many thanks to everyone who took part, including the companies who kindly released their employees for the day to help out:  Caitlin Sutherland from Waterman Aspen; Ben Lewis from VisiMedia; Sam Hastings from Cisco; James C. from Stantec; and Josh Mabbs from BAE Systems.



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