Posted: 07 July 2016

The power of our shops

In June last year, we launched our first local campaign, Handle With Care.

This campaign was a result of our experiences supporting young people in the care system and what they told us about the impact that moving to new care placements had on their lives.

Sometimes a new placement meant moving many miles away, leaving them unable to maintain contact with friends, family and even their social workers. But even where a move was a relatively short distance it still meant upheaval; new neighbourhoods, new schools, packing, moving and unpacking again, often with little notice to plan or to say goodbye.

No matter what the distance travelled, and even if they were with extended family in a new place, young people definitely needed better support.

After just a few months of public campaigning, we saw 2,500 people sign our petition.

Nearly 2,000 supporters came from our shops in the area.

This public pressure meant that by September we were able to engage with local authorities in making our recommendations a reality.

Our shops, as physical spaces in the streets, neighbourhoods and communities were pivotal hubs for reaching out to local people and engaging them in this issue.

Last week we finally confirmed that our recommendations are formally being accepted by every council in Greater Manchester.

In the midst of this good news, we got in touch with Carol – the manager at the Shaw shop in Oldham – to find out what made this campaign work so well locally, and with her customers. 

Did you know much about children in care before the campaign?

Yes, I’d seen first-hand a lot of the issues faced by children in care; I was a foster parent for a time, and I also housed two care leavers who’d struggled to adjust after leaving care.

I’d also seen it through the eyes of loved ones and colleagues; my ex-husband had worked in a children’s home, and I’ve also had a number of volunteers who’ve worked at the shop who’ve been in care themselves.

Why was the Handle with Care campaign important to you?

Because of my own experiences, I had an insight into the lack of consideration given to some young people in the care system.

This campaign was highlighting the issues I had seen certain young people face.

Often they already are dealing with disruption in their lives and moving at short notice, not having enough suitable containers for packing and being moved far from home just adds to their challenges and can cause them unnecessary distress.

What did your shop do to make Handle with Care a focal point?

The campaigns team had briefed us about the campaign, so we saved a couple of tatty suitcases and age appropriate clothing, which meant we were able to dress the window to reflect the purpose of this campaign.

The campaigns team also sent us posters and leaflets which we used to clearly get the message across.

We also had carrier bags and a voice-over featuring a young person who’d been moved many times in Greater Manchester, which added something extra to the messages about the campaign that customers were receiving.

Why do you think this campaign was received so positively by people in Oldham?

There are lots of reasons.

First, our shop has been in Shaw for twenty years. The Children’s Society has run children's centres in Oldham for many years.

We also have The Missing From Home project and the Resolve service, among other services that have been running locally, for a number of years.

This means The Children’s Society is known and respected by many local people.

But when we began talking to our customers about this campaign in particular, it quickly became apparent that these issues mattered to them.

Many had knowledge of young people who had faced these experiences; they were teachers, social workers, foster carers, some had children in the care system, and some had been in care themselves.

Almost everyone was sympathetic and listened.

I do think there was great power in this being a local campaign in that they felt they could play a positive part in it and help to make improvements for the future of local young people.

People walked in because they were interested in the posters with statistics specifically about Oldham!

Finally, this was personal to our team. We had a young person volunteering for us who had been in care.

When they were first in care, they had been sent out of borough. As a result, they ran away and were missing for three days before being referred our Missing From Home team.

Eventually they joined us as a volunteer and realised we were connected as we too were a part of The Children’s Society.

When this campaign launched, this young person worked incredibly hard to get every customer to add their name to the petition themselves

By Sarah Wayman - Campaigns team
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