The Queen’s representative in Cambridgeshire and the Master of Jesus College have become patrons of a Cambridge charity helping children thrive at school.
Julie Spence OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, and Sonita Alleyne OBE are advocates for The Red Hen Project which works with children and their families in north Cambridge.
Lesley Ford, chair of Red Hen, said: “It’s great for us to have such successful and influential women as our patrons. In these difficult times lots of people are wanting to support charities and they often go to the big ones, the names that they know. A small charity like ours is often overlooked. Having some high-profile patrons on board helps people get to know about us.”
The Red Hen Project aims to advance the education and development of children and their parents or carers in north Cambridge. This includes improving school attendance and educational performance; increasing empowerment and participation of hard-to-reach families; and improving social integration, access and participation in the community.
Sonita is the first woman to lead Jesus College, one of the 31 Colleges in the University of Cambridge. She is also a businesswoman and entrepreneur, including being founder of the Yes Programme, an online careers information scheme which gives school pupils an insight into how classroom skills translate to real world careers.
As Lord-Lieutenant, Julie works to foster good relations and cooperation between organisations across Cambridgeshire. She is a former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police and championed gender equality in the British police during her career. Julie is also Chair of Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust which provides mental health services across the region.
“Cambridge is the most polarised and unequal city in the country, our poverty is hidden and not expected or talked about as it would be in big cities like London, which makes it more difficult for families and charities working with them to make a difference. As a vibrant city we can all do more to support and inspire the next generation of young people and support their families to provide for them thereby improving their life chances. I look forward to supporting Red Hen in their valuable work.”
Sonita said: “We all have journeys that connect people. School and education are one of those journeys. Parenthood is another. Red Hen helps children and their families on those journeys, and I am delighted to support their work.
“There is a new group of young people starting out in the world every year and instead of absorbing stories from the past about how something is not for you, we can encourage them to have a go instead. That encouragement and belief in someone can make a huge difference to their lives.”
Lesley said: “In the Covid era, we have done a lot of work on the poverty relief side of things. However, our core aim is removing barriers to education. Having role models in place, as we have now in our two patrons, really does highlight that. The education aspect of our work is all about life chances and goals.
“I am reminded of William Booth, who started the Salvation Army, who spoke about how you can’t preach to a hungry man, well you can’t teach a hungry child. So of course, what we’re currently doing is important, but we want to make sure people know that what we’re about is barriers to education. One of those barriers being poverty and austerity.
“We’re delighted to welcome Julie and Sonita as our patrons and look forward to working with them to further our work with children and their families.”