The local community has sent out a strong message of support in the wake of a stark report into child poverty in Morecambe.
Organisers of a community open forum in Morecambe on Monday evening said they were “overwhelmed” by the response after 300 residents and community groups turned out in support.
The meeting was arranged by Sustainability Morecambe, The Creative Exchange, Stanleys Youth and Community Centre and Morecambe Fringe in the light of an ITV investigation last week which revealed some of the lengths local schools are going to in order to help families in the resort.
This includes offering laundry services and allowing parents to charge their mobile phones if they do not have the money for electricity.
Carnforth GP Dr Andy Knox also told how doctors in the resort are seeing incidents of rickets in youngsters affected by malnutrition.
Meanwhile, Morecambe Salvation Army has said it has organised Christmas presents and food parcels for 350 childrenand their families this year.
This doesn’t cover the elderly or single people.
This year the community church has also helped 155 people more than once with gas/electric top-ups and food parcels.
The meeting, held at the Alhambra & Carleton Suite, aimed to discuss the issues and what could be done to help.
Dr Knox spoke of the “collective wisdom” which he hoped could be used to bring about a brighter future.
He said: “We want to make the future different. It’s time for us to find a new way because the future belongs to those of us brave enough to make it. Together we have a collective wisdom.
“There is a large amount of health inequality here, yet just a few miles away life expectancy increases by 15 years.
“What kind of community do we want to leave for the next generation? That’s the over-riding question.
“That’s what we are building for – a way of life that allows everyone’s health and well-being to improve.”
Since the ITV programme aired, both the Alhambra and local schools have received numerous donations of warm clothing, food and toiletries from members of the community, to be distributed among children and families in need.
One family donated 60 Christmas selection boxes while the travelling community gave trolley-loads of clothes and food, including turkeys, and a man from Amsterdam sent over 25 Christmas hampers.
Speaking to The Visitor during the meeting, Morecambe Bay Primary School head Siobhan Collingwood said she has been “completely overwhelmed” by the response.
“The whole school hall and two offices have been filled by bags of shopping and clothes and food,” she said.
“We have had people wanting to adopt other families to give them monthly payments.
“We have seen amazing generosity from total strangers who have no links to the school who want to help in whatever way they can.
“It feels like something so negative has produced a totally positive response. It’s been heartwarming and has reduced the staff to tears.
“I can’t put it into words. This isn’t why we decided to speak out. We did it because we thought it might just make people more aware.
“For so long we have felt like we are in it on our own.
“Things have got worse in the last 12 months. We have seen at least a 20 per cent increase in families coming to us for help and support.
“For whatever reason that need is growing and the extent of that need is growing.
“This is not through bad management. This is just through circumstance.”
Mrs Collingwood reiterated that families should not be scared to ask schools for help.
“This is not a safeguarding or child protection issue,” she said. “We are not reporting families to social services.”
“Headteachers won’t know what support to put in place if the parents don’t share with them the nature of their problems.
“Until we remove problems of hunger and tiredness and not being warm, these children cannot learn effectively.”
Mrs Collingwood said she hopes the open forum will lead to an inclusive social movement that works together to provide solutions to the problem.
She said: “We have got an amazingly talented community with a big heart who just need to know who to speak to and where to go.
“We have strong networks between the schools. I know this isn’t just our school. We have started something and we need to make sure it spreads across the district and nobody is missed.”
After the meeting, Jo Ainscough from Sustainability Morecambe said: “The idea of the meeting was to look for solutions rather than focus on the problems.
“As a community we want to try to come up with some solutions in a non-political way.
“I am utterly overwhelmed. When I came up with the idea for the meeting last week I just didn’t foresee that we would end up with a room of 300 people coming up with fantastic ideas.
“It was such a positive evening with a great energy.”
It is hoped the forum will turn into a quarterly event which sees local residents and community groups continuing to work together.
Future information will be put on the new website morecambecollective.co.uk