Crusading teacher tackles ‘bed poverty’ for Leeds families
Having a nice bed to sleep in is something many of us take for granted.
But the issue of bed poverty is a problem for thousands of children in Leeds who are going to sleep hungry and cold, according to crusading charity Zarach.
The organisation, whose mission is to provide beds so children can ‘eat, sleep, learn’, was officially founded by Leeds teacher Bex Wilson in 2018.
But Zarach’s journey really began in the summer of 2017 when Bex, a deputy headteacher at Shakespeare Primary School and Nursery on Lincoln Road, was teaching an English class. She noticed a young boy who seemed distracted.
Bex said: “This little boy was not being himself. I could see he was struggling and he was being a little bit moody. I just said to him at the end of the lesson, ‘it’s really unlike you to behave like this. Are you tired? I feel like maybe you’ve not had a good night’s sleep, is there something going on’?”
The boy relied: “I’m always tired, Miss. I don’t have a bed.”
Bex was startled by his reply despite being well aware of poverty issues in Leeds. She said: “I’ve worked in this area and it’s an area of high deprivation. I lived there as a child and went to a local school. So I knew about it. I think it was just the bluntness in the way the little boy said it that just shocked me and kicked me into action.”
It turned out the boy lived in an unfurnished house. He shared a cushion with his brother to sleep on, but it was riddled with bed bugs.
After making more enquiries Bex discovered there was nowhere they could make a referral to which would guarantee the boy would have a bed by the end of the week. Bex then took matters into her own hands and bought beds and bedding for the family.
Later the boy’s mum, who had found herself a job, offered to pay Bex back for the beds. Bex initially declined but was told by the mum, “I want you to do this for someone else like me. You were the light when I was sitting in darkness and thought there was no hope. I want you to do this for another family like me.”
The teacher, who had also been touched by statistics showing the extent of child poverty in Leeds, then decided to do something about it.
She said instead of complaining about the lack of support for children who didn’t have a bed in the city, she thought she could become part of the answer.
Since then Zarach has grown from a family operation to a team of employees backed by trustees and an army of volunteers.
Before the pandemic more than 40 schools had registered with it. During lockdown it widened its remit delivering thousands of masks, education packs for children at home, providing meals and doing food shops for the elderly.
Zarach has just launched two new hubs, one in Dewsbury and the other in Romford, London. Its model embraces both a local and a more national approach.
One of its main aims is to deliver a thousand bed bundles by the end of 2021. It is on track to do it as more than 700 have been dispatched already.
Bex feels they could operate a similar network as foodbanks who provide essential items to those in crisis.
She said: “There is a food bank in most if not all major cities. I really believe we can do the same with beds and bed poverty using the model that we have done.”
If you would like to support Zarach’s work then please go to: zarach.org/donate.
Zarach is named after the Hebrew word meaning ‘rising light’.
Founder and head of trustees Bex Wilson set up the charity more than two years ago to help families in crisis rise up from surviving to thriving.
In a short space of time Zarach has accomplished much. When Covid hit in March it diversified from delivering beds and bedding to struggling families into a much wider role.
Project Vantry saw it turn its bed vans into mobile pantries containing essential food and hygiene products, like nappies and washing powder. It has delivered tens of thousands meals this way.
Bex said: “We did deliveries every day during the height of lockdown, now we do them three times a week.”
At Christmas, Zarach combined its role of delivering 32 bed bundles over two days while also operating its ‘Chrimbox’ campaign, which saw boxes containing food for 14 days being delivered to 137 families’ doors.
Bex said: “Knowing that we were feeding that many people three meals a day for two weeks, the numbers were just staggering. It was a massive operation. In two days we delivered all the food to the houses of the families. We had loads of corporate help, vans and different people involved doing it.”
Every child got a book and a Christmas present. They also got a big box of activities to do over Christmas thanks to project Playbox.