The Aviva Community Fund: One of our Brighton winners is….

In association with The Aviva Community Fund 2017

The Aviva Community Fund is a really fantastic initiative, so I was thrilled to meet one of last year’s winners late in 2017. This week, after months of build-up, entry writing, voting and anticipation, the 2017 winners were finally announced, with over 590 worthy community groups awarded funding by the Aviva Community Fund this week – with awards ranging from up to £1,000 to £25,000. I’d been on the edge of my seat to find out which groups had won in my area, with so many amazing causes in the running!

In September, I chatted with one of  last year’s winners, Contact the Elderly, who work across the UK to run tea parties for the elderly in a bid to tackle loneliness and social isolation. They were awarded £10,000 in 2016 from the Aviva Community Fund, so I was eager to see who I’d be meeting this year….

So, without further ado, I am pleased to announce that one of the  local Brighton winners was the Foundation Stage Outdoor Learning Environment. A primary school not too far from where I live who are doing amazing things for our community’s children. Last week, I headed down to Balfour Primary School to meet the ladies behind the winning entry, to not only give them a huge celebratory ‘high five’ but to find out all the details of how they plan to use the funding too.

Balfour Primary School and the Foundation Stage Outdoor Learning Environment is just one of the over 590 projects and charities that secured funding from the Aviva Community Fund this year. The nationwide initiative, now in its third year, launched in September 2015, called upon passionate residents to submit a project close to their heart to be in with a chance of securing funding ranging from up to £1,000 to £25,000.

Over 6,500 groups entered the funding initiative, each galvanising the support of their local community to vote for their entry in four categories: Health & Wellbeing, Skills for Life, Community Support, and Inclusivity.

5.5 million votes were placed this year and the 828 groups with the highest votes were shortlisted as finalists. Awards in the £1k category were decided on by public votes, with winners in the £5k, £10k and £25k categories selected from the finalists by a judging panel.

Balfour Primary school is the biggest primary school in Brighton with over 850 children, which is a real hub in the local community. They hold many annual events like the Christmas and Summer Fairs, plus the annual fireworks night. They have little outdoor space for reception children, with just a small area which becomes a mud-bath if the weather turns, meaning it can be unsafe and hazardous for the children to be outdoors.  Research shows that children learn huge amounts by being outdoors, this is something they are currently often missing out on, and the disappointment on the children’s faces when the weather turns can be heartbreaking.

I met Natasha Paling, a Teaching Assistant in Early Years Foundation Stage and Michaela Francis, the Acting Assistant Head of Balfour Primary School. They were the ladies behind the winning entry and were keen to tell me all about the project.

We were shown around the area, which is due to be renovated in the spring this year following the Aviva Community Fund win of £5000. As you can see it’s a small, grassy area that isn’t ideal for children to play in all weathers. With an outdoor classroom, there will be no stopping them – come rain or shine!

This area will be transformed into a state of the art outdoor classroom, with astroturf, all-weather flooring, a large sheltered area – perfect for telling stories, learning and being out in all weathers as well as messy play areas, sandpits and a play area too.

When I asked Natasha and Michaela what it was like to hear they had won the funding, I think their faces said it all. They are two passionate ladies when it comes to this school. In fact, Natasha is now a Teaching Assistant whilst she trains to be a teacher, but her passion for Balfour Primary school started before this when her own children went to the school. She started working as a dinner lady when her youngest son joined and worked her way up. Her passion is Early Years Foundation Stage and watching her with the children, that is clear to see, she is a total natural with them and they love being around her too.

The pair were just in total and utter shock when they found out they’d been awarded the win from the Aviva Community Fund. They knew the school was a worthy cause, they knew the competition would be fierce. I asked them how they managed to generate so many votes, they replied that they mainly used the power of social media! Sharing the voting page on the school’s Facebook page, asking parents of children and their large staff base to vote. Obviously, it worked a treat as the votes came pouring in.

We then heard from the most important people, the children! Natasha and Michaela rounded up the troops to show us the difference their new outdoor classroom area will make to them all. Suddenly the quiet, bleak space was alive with the buzz of children; playing games, banging drums, shaking tambourines and it became clear just how much this new space will mean to them all.

The children were amazingly cute, so full of energy and enthusiasm about their new outdoor classroom. Natasha asked them what kind of things they were hoping for, they answered with ‘a swing!’, ‘a sandpit!’ and ‘messy play!’ – they certainly know what they want, even at their tender age.

The team at Balfour Primary School are so passionate about what they do. They have worked tirelessly to raise money for this space, through fundraisers, the PTA and by holding events, but with government cuts they just couldn’t make ends meet. So, the Aviva Community Fund win just means everything to them and will benefit every single child that passes through the school, for years to come.

A big CONGRATULATIONS to Balfour Primary School and their Foundation Stage Outdoor Learning Environment, which will soon look unrecognisable to what it was once before. I hope they invite us back for a look when the work is done, I can’t wait to see it!

If you’d like to find out about other Aviva Community Fund winners and find out who won in your local area, visit this page here.

Author: Lyndsay Fizzypeaches

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