“I was one of six children in a little mining village, squeezed in a council house,” Pauline said. “By the end of the week, it was often sugar or tomato ketchup sandwiches.” Determined to escape that life, she trained as an accountant, rising to Deputy Director of Finance at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals, managing a £285m budget.
As part of the council’s child anti-poverty unit innovation pilots, she put together a proposal on the Barefoot Professional model, where staff have lived experience. In the pilot, they trained local parents who had overcome difficulties, from homelessness to domestic abuse.
After two years, funding ended. The outcomes were too good to ignore; she suggested it continued as a charity. In 2011, Family Gateway was established.
With salaries underwritten by the council for a year, it had to become selfsufficient. It added a community hub, cafe and catering business, contributing to an annual turnover of up to a million pounds.
In a year we’ve delivered over 72,000 free meals made at our premises, chilled and delivered to families, with bags of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Its 27-strong staff provide intensive support to 350 marginalised families a year, with multiple and complex needs at risk of crime, eviction or having their children taken away.
“A lot of these families have been let down by services. The ultimate objective is to get the parents into work, but there’s a lot of pre-employability work to do first.”
Income comes from schools who pay them to engage children who don’t attend, grants and trading.
“The social enterprise was just starting to pick up before Covid, with corporate clients, regular footfall and a takeaway.”
Their community centre lost income as tenancies stopped. Income became unstable, but need shot through the roof.
They used their facilities to offer a free family meal service, kickstarted with donations.
“In a year we’ve delivered over 72,000 free meals made at our premises, chilled and delivered to families, with bags of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Delivering meals was also a way to do welfare checks. The team also used WhatsApp and video calls to keep engagement.
Key Fund gave £37,500 from the Social Enterprise Support Fund, primarily to fund a Head of Community Business, also a trained chef.
“I want it to be the best catering social enterprise in the North East,” Pauline said. Her aim is for children in poverty to pick vegetables from their garden and get interested in cooking, to break the malnutrition cycle.
“I was that little girl standing in the free school meal queue. Here I am helping to remove some of those injustices. If I don’t drive this business, we won’t exist.
Who else is going work with these families because nobody else is?”