Return to school wellbeing is top of the agenda at St Mary’s Primary, Portaferry after a difficult year

Key summary

Portaferry, a small rural town in County Down, Northern Ireland, has a strong community ethos and this has been brought to the fore as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Parent Support Group (PSG) of St Mary’s Primary School has secured almost £10,000 from Comic Relief and the Community Foundation NI to support the wellbeing of pupils, parents and grandparents, and staff as they return to the school environment. Here, Clare-Anne Magee tells us more…

Close-knit community

“Prior to the pandemic, we had plans for all sorts of ‘traditional’ fundraising activities”, Clare-Anne explains. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to put these plans in place, but when we saw how our school community had struggled due to the social impact of the pandemic and adapting to the ‘new normal’, we knew had to do our best to support them”.

“With the support of the Community Foundation and Comic Relief, we have begun a project to promote wellbeing that not only supports our 200 pupils, but also 120 staff and parents. Training sessions will be provided by Parenting NI on coping strategies, resilience and making sense of how you feel.”

The Principal of St Mary’s, Paul Gilchrist explains more of the background: “In a recent survey of parents in the school we found that the majority felt emotional wellbeing was a key priority for children returning to school after the first lockdown. Our staff expressed similar concerns and the pupils themselves, when they did come back to school in mid-August, had a lot of anxieties around the risk of infection and keeping safe and it was evident that some had struggled, as we all have, with the impact of the pandemic and trying to return to some form of “new normal”. We’re delighted to be able to deliver this project through our school and will be opening up the parent and practitioner training sessions to other schools/groups and parents as part of our endeavours to connect with the wider community.”

Shared learning

Clare-Anne goes on to say “we’re really keen to get the community involved with the project. We’re partnering with other schools and organisations in the area so that everyone can pool their resources and learnings. The grant-funding has meant that wellbeing resource have been purchased that pupils can take home, and due to the rural nature of the area and the connectivity issues this brings, a big screen has been purchased for the large school hall so that parents can attend training sessions in a socially distanced manner. We’re very grateful that we’ve received this funding so we can help keep the community together”.

The Head of Building Sustainable Communities at the Community Foundation NI, Michael Hughes writes "we are delighted to support St Mary's Primary School parent support programme through the Comic Relief programme. Recognising and addressing injustices and inequalities that have been deepened by Covid19 and ensuring #No-oneLeftBehind. This funding supports efforts to build on developing children's wellbeing and resilience but at the same time enabling parents, school staff and other local community facilitators to gain the skills and capacity to better support children during this global pandemic and beyond."

Tips for successful grant funding:

  • Talk to your school about what’s needed and apply for grants that are relevant to these areas – don’t try and make a square peg fit a round hole
  • Parentkind members can sign up to a half-price Grants4Schools annual subscription, which will provide you with a database of funding opportunities that are rarely advertised elsewhere
  • Funders want to know who they’re giving their money to, so make sure you have your school and PTA’s key details to hand, such as your aims/objectives and how the project fits in, the number of pupils who attend and other fundraising activities you’ve undertaken for the school

Fact File
  • PTA name: St Mary's Primary Parent Support Group
  • School name: St Mary's Primary School
  • Age range: 4-11
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • School type: Primary
  • Size: 200

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