The campaign is part of the charity’s ambitious new four-year programme, Voices Through Time: The Story of Care, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will see the digitisation of Coram’s archive dating back to when it was established as the Foundling Hospital in 1739. The programme is digitising the most fragile records of the longest continuing archive of children’s social care, preserving them for future generations and transcribing them to enable the public to gain wider access.
A key part of the programme is collaboration with care-experienced young people today, giving them opportunities to engage with the archive and to tell their own stories through a series of creative workshops. This activity will be showcased through the #RealStoriesOfCare campaign, giving exposure to the personal stories of care-experienced children and young people over three centuries, and showing the realities of growing up in care then and now.
The #RealStoriesOfCare campaign has been co-produced with care-experienced children and young people who identified that it would make a huge difference if the diverse experiences of care were more widely understood. They felt that personal stories told by children and young people themselves are powerful tools to publicise realistic portrayals of children in care, with a balance of positive and negative aspects, instead of inaccurate or stigmatised perspectives which so often affect them.
Over the four-year programme, there will be ten creative projects inspired by the archive and the #RealStoriesOfCare campaign starts by sharing creative content developed by young people’s ‘letters from lockdown’, supported by Royal Literary Foundation, together with blogs, poems and a manifesto for care leavers.
This will be followed in 2021-22 with a spoken word performance with Arcola Theatre, a touring public art installation and a theatre production with The Big House. Young people aged 16-25 with care-experience can now register interest in taking part in these projects at coramstory.org.uk, and there are also opportunities to volunteer as a programme ambassador to help shape the #RealStoriesOfCare campaign further.
Nkechi, aged 20, who took part in the ‘letters from lockdown’ project and is now a programme ambassador, said: “I am a creative by nature and was intrigued by the idea of creating and writing during these unprecedented times. Not only that, but it came at a time when as a care leaver during Covid-19, not many people were asking about our experiences and I felt like I had no voice, this project gave me one.
“Being able to learn about Coram’s archive was an invaluable experience – it was fascinating, heart-breaking and inspiring. Being able to see their faces, hear their stories, and learn about how their lives were similar and different to ours. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of myself by understanding the experiences of the looked-after children who came before me. I got so much from taking part. It revived my sense of purpose, gave me structure and inspired other creative projects.”
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “300 years after Thomas Coram campaigned to create his charity, children and young people who have grown up in care still tell us that they still often feel overlooked and misunderstood by the wider public. This truly inclusive programme aims to tackle this as young people engage with the past, explore the present and influence social attitudes and the future of care.
“This is a timely opportunity for the government’s independent review of children’s social care and for us all to hear the voices of young people and learn from our collective history. We hope that the #RealStoriesOfCare campaign will tackle the issues children and young people continue to face and surprise and inspire you with powerful stories from the past and present.”
Follow and take part in the campaign on Coram’s social media channels using #RealStoriesOfCare. Young people aged 16-25 can find out more about the upcoming creative workshops and volunteering opportunities at coramstory.org.uk/get-involved.