Happy birthday Faith in Families – a message from our CEO Cherrie Bija

I have had the privilege of leading our fabulous charity for over half of its years, seeing it go through many stages into adulthood, it feels as if we have blossomed. With a real focus on our vision and future supporting and inspiring people to do the things that really matter to them.

There have been lots of issues during our adolescence to get here. It has not always been easy. We have learnt when to walk away when things didn’t fit, we have shrunk and adapted as we have gone through each stage and the growing pains have personally hurt as we figured out that we should only do what we know we can do best.

We have grown in our knowledge, experience and have real strength and trust in our local communities. During the past decades it has sometimes felt that our impact has been ignored, rarely recognised and sometimes undervalued.

However this started to change even before the pandemic. Mutual respect and understanding that we now have between other charities and public sectors really help us together change lives for the better. A real community of people with a shared sense of purpose, enabling us to reach as many individuals as we can, to give them the opportunities that they deserve.

At a time where we are never more needed being a grass roots charity enables us to have the vision to see the potential for change in most circumstances creating #StrongWelshCommunities.

The pandemic has really showcased what was possible when we all came together, despite testing circumstances. I am incredibly proud of how agile and resilient my teams became. Moving to online services and becoming far more tech savvy than we ever would have believed. Everyday my focus was on making sure we were able to deliver front line services and support to some of the most valuable children, who needed time and understanding to face their challenges. At the same time as keeping my teams, our beneficiaries and communities safe. The complexity of the rules and regulations, weighing against the risks of doing or not doing was overwhelming at times. The ever changing circumstances that we were all faced with brought an existential anxiety that filled my days as we dealt with complex issues.

Since the first lockdown our Brighter Futures team alone have supported over 128 families with 1500 hours of direct intense therapy, nurturing families as best we could from a distance. The mental health challenges for our children are increasing as child poverty and extreme hardship grows immensely. Children whose lives were not balanced before the pandemic have had their shaky worlds turned upside down.

Increasing referrals to our therapists arrive each day and the stories that my team shared of the experiences of our children is heart breaking. This drives our commitment further as the crisis exposes and exasperates the unqualified calamity that some of our families face. Our children have the absolute right to the benefit and support of our expertise, we just had to find new ways of doing things and our triumphs and wisdom enable us to do this.

Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe says “we are sleep-walking into a wider inequality gap”. The challenges for our charity in the years to come when we deal with the losses and loneliness that we have all just been through are going to be immense. The cracks in society have become chasms and if we do not act together now the future is incredibly bleak for hundreds of thousands of children. It is today that is important for them as childhood happens once and cannot be regained. Even before coronavirus 700,000 people were will living precarious and insure lives in Wales, we know that this is not right or fair.

Over my past 13 years’ tenure there has lack of long term commitment and our work whilst I believe vital has always felt temporary as we chase the necessary funding and resources that we need. Planning is an integral part of any organisation and whilst we always want to be reactive and flexible – as proven in the last year – a clear plan is always invaluable. Without long term contracts this was difficult.

Over the last 21 years we have successfully secured millions of pounds in fundraising, grants, service level agreements, tenders and developed 3 capital million pound projects. We have grown from a team of less than a handful to over 100 staff and volunteers. We have thousands of connections across our communities, numerous partners and have made a difference to thousands of lives, unlocking the potential in young and old.

We start the next chapter of Faith in Families journey with the security and stability that we have never had before. Having recently secured a six year contract to deliver our core family service in our 3 Swansea Centres. For the first time we now have secured consecutive years funding – we can now develop our ambitions and positively change the narrative of our work, making this crisis point and actual turning point for our communities and the children and families within.

The legacy of Covid will be the sorrow and grief that we have all been touched with, but also the way people cared for each other, the real community spirit and action that we know we will now have to seize as we deal with the convoluted consequences ahead of us. We will all have a lived experience of this crisis to discuss – as Faith in Families plans for our future years we need to ensure that we have the platform to call for change for those whose voices are not heard and talk about their stories, shout out about the long standing and deep routed inequalities and inspire people to believe and succeed in the best life for themselves and their families.

I am very excited for our future and for what together we can do.