Helen Hoff , Cover Supervisor at Ringwood School Hampshire is leading students on their 4th Night Walk for The Big Issue Foundation
I have been pretty lucky in life: did well at school, fell into a good job and am surrounded by loving family and great friends. I’ve been through my share of tough times but, when they’ve come, I’ve been blessed with incredible support both emotional and financial.
Throughout life I’ve always counted those blessings when I’ve walked past someone huddled in a doorway; living on the streets…no-one could possibly choose a life like that over one of stability and comfort, could they? I feel humbled knowing that I have never actually done anything to “deserve” the life I’ve been given; had support not been there in times of crisis I too may have ended up with no-where to go. The balance of life can be fragile.
In 2010 I spotted an advert for the Big London Night Walk in the Big Issue magazine. It not only looked like an unusual and fun thing to do but a great way of supporting a charity that makes a real difference to people’s lives…I made a decision to do it. Then a seed of an idea began to grow and, before I knew it, had blossomed into an exciting plan: I would offer to take some 6th form students from Ringwood School, where I work as a cover supervisor, and help open the eyes of the next generation to the issues surrounding homelessness.
Permission granted and risk assessment complete, 11 enthusiastic year 13s signed up, raised their sponsorship money and set off with me for the Big City. The lead up to the Walk had given me the opportunity to talk to all 350 6th form students in assemblies and for everyone to do their bit by throwing loose change in a bucket or buying a doughnut for the charity. But for the students involved it was a truly meaningful challenge and they demonstrated life skills which they were able to include in their Personal Statements for University: teamwork, commitment, determination, stamina, enthusiasm and a heart for others. The Walk actually did as much for them as they had done for The Big Issue!
After the success of the first year we went on to walk with increasing numbers of students and staff in 2011 and 2012. A picture of our first group was actually chosen to advertise the event the following year…you can imagine how exciting that was for the students involved!
The feedback from everyone at school has always been overwhelming; so positive that I have staff on a waiting list to support the event and some members of staff now on their third Walk. This year we are bringing a whole coach full: 45 students and 8 staff. We have linked up with the Bournemouth branch of The Big Issue and a superb young member of their team, not much older than the sixth formers themselves, has been involved in assemblies and will be joining us on the Walk. There is an air of excitement as the students work up to the event.
I recently read an article about Leo Tolstoy (BBC news website). Born into Russian nobility in the early 1800s, his views on how to live a happy and balance life still hold true today and I have shared these with students this week: practice empathy, make a difference to the lives of people less fortunate, master the art of simple living and, most importantly, challenge your own prejudices and opinions by conversing with people outside your own cosseted social circle. Sound advice for all generations, but in schools our job is to help equip the next with balanced and informed attitudes in a rapidly changing world. I am grateful to The Big Issue for giving us a platform for those discussions in school and the opportunity to chat to some of the vendors as we walk…a truly worthwhile experience.
To find more about how you can get your school involved please visit here.