Public services have been slashed by the false economy of austerity and child poverty is on the increase.
Wood Street Mission is a charity in Manchester that provides a wide range of services for children and families that are most in need of help.
Austerity has hit public services hard in Manchester and left vulnerable people unsupported. Many community groups and volunteers are stepping up to fill the void created by these funding cuts, that hit those most in need the hardest. Wood Street Mission is one of these organisations.
The Wood Street Mission is a children’s charity that helps children and families on a low income in Manchester and Salford. Through practical help, they help meet children’s day-to-day needs, alongside well-being and development, to improve a child’s life chances.
They achieve this through programmes such as Family Basics, which provides clothes, bedding, baby equipment, toys, and books. The SmartStart programme promotes engagement in education by providing uniforms, school supplies, and covering other school costs and their Book Clubs promote reading and improve children’s literacy.
The mission has a rich history in alleviating poverty. In 1869 Alfred Alsop, book seller, publisher and Methodist conducted a service in the streets of Deansgate, aiming to preach the Gospel in this squalid slum area. Families were living in cramped houses with poor amenities, unemployment was high, and families could not provide food for their families.
Alsop realised that his evangelical zeal could not compete with the appalling levels of hunger, poverty and destitution which many in the community endured. He decided to create a charitable movement, the Manchester and Salford Street Children’s Mission, that resolved to provide the basic necessities of life – food, shelter and clothing. It was later renamed the Wood Street Mission.
The site in Manchester City Centre just off Deansgate on Wood Street was acquired in 1873 and in those times, accommodation was provided there for homeless boys and later also girls, as well as free dinners, clothing, and shoes for hundreds of families and their children.
Christmas breakfasts and parties, along with a Boxing Day toy distribution became a Manchester tradition. Des Lynch, manager of Wood Street Mission, said. “We have many people who come to Wood Street now who remember the toy they received from the charity, and we continue to provide toys for children at Christmas to this day.”
The Mission still provide toys through their Christmas Appeal so that children will have presents for Christmas Day. Lynch points out that:
“Austerity clearly has an impact on our work with more ‘working poor’ families unable to meet the high costs of living with rents, household bills, public transport costs and food constantly on the rise… There are 75,480 children living in poverty in Manchester and Salford. That’s enough children to fill Old Trafford.
“We do get emergency referrals from social workers to help families who are living in awful conditions and desperate for basic items such as toiletries and bedding. We’ve had experience of children visiting with their parents who have shoes that don’t fit and have no sole. Children going to school in winter with no coat. The list is endless.”
In 2019, the Family Basics project helped 3,784 children with clothing, bedding, toiletries, nappies and baby equipment. Smart Start helped provide 3,191 children with brand new school uniforms. The Book Clubs at the Mission hosted 273 children and in the academic year 2018/19 the Wood Street Mission Book Roadshows, in schools, provided 929 children with 9,500 books.
All of this support makes a tangible difference to the lives of local children. The clothing and essentials bring the obvious benefits, but the books bring escapism, creativity, a sense of pride and literacy skills that will help the children progress in education and ultimately help them to break the cycle of poverty.
The Mission is an independent charity and are funded through voluntary donations and a small amount of grant funding. As an independent charity they rely on their supporters to raise and donate funds and items, and to raise awareness of their work. Anne added, “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us each year, who are essential to our work.”
The Wood Street Mission also raise awareness about child poverty by holding events, and giving talks at schools, businesses and groups.They plan on investing heavily into their existing projects and are currently in the middle of their Books Forever Appeal.
Lynch says the “project ensures that children own their own books and develop their literacy skills. These skills assist in improving their levels of education and help to break that cycle of poverty.”
They are asking for new books to be donated to support their various book projects. ”We are always on the lookout for baby equipment such as prams, cots, buggies, Moses baskets, nappies etc as well as toiletries, children’s clothing especially for the over 3’s and books.” Says Lynch.
In addition, families registered with the Wood Street Mission may participate in the Childhood Experiences Project. Lynch explains:
“We are very aware that trips out for families who are living in poverty are just not an option yet it’s these experiences that often provide the best childhood memories. We are aiming to fill that gap with trips to venues such as Jodrell Bank, Rock Climbing, the Cinema and Museums.”
The Wood Street Mission, 150 years on, still provides help to thousands of children and their families every year and all of their services are free for families to access, on referral.
Dale Anne McAulay
If you think that you could benefit from seeking help at The Wood Street Mission or would like to help out by volunteering or donating, contact them at:
Phone Number: 0161 834 3140
Website: Wood Street Mission
Address: 26 Wood Street, Manchester, M3 3EF
This article is part of the ‘Mancunians Going the Extra Mile to Help Those in Need’ series, focussing on the essential work charities are doing in Manchester.
Feature image and in article images: Wood Street Mission