When Danielle Flecher-Horn tells you that she never wants to see any child go without, you soon discern she’s not a woman to be taken lightly.
On the contrary, this force of nature and specialist and early intervention teacher in Aberdeen is very aware of the myriad challenges faced by children when their early years are difficult. A blight which is happening with increasing frequency in what is still regarded as the oil capital of Europe.
She founded AberNecessities in 2019 when she watched children arriving at school without adequate clothing and shoes – and the effect that it had on their learning.
At the outset, she ran the charity with her mother, Michelle – who is still actively involved today as chief operating officer – in Aberdeen, supporting families by providing nappies, formula milk and clothing.
Numbers are rising
Yet in the intervening period, it has grown significantly, as a result of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis – both of which have affected impoverished youngsters disproportionately. To date, the venture has supported more than 12,000 children, but the most worrying aspect is that the numbers are rising.
AberNecessities operates in partnership with a variety of social workers, health visitors and schools, who advise when a family needs basic essentials.
In recent weeks, there was an application from a school in the area for more than 100 winter jackets because the children had none of their own, and a social worker referral for a family, which included a request for beds, shoes, nappies and clothing.
One of her colleagues said: “It’s a frightening situation. And it’s not getting any better – applications for support are coming in from postcodes you wouldn’t expect.”
‘We will do whatever we can’
However, Danielle didn’t create the organisation without realising the scale of the malaise which she would be tackling. And, as a mother-of-four, she appreciates the difference between youngsters growing up with a sense of being valued or not.
She said: “The issue of poverty in the north-east of Scotland is an ever pressing issue. Currently, one in five children are living in poverty across Aberdeen City and Shire.
“While the extent of the deprivation varies by area, the aftermath of Covid and the escalating cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the issue, creating a more widespread impact. AberNecessities is actively responding to this pressing need, currently supporting an average of 250 children every month.
“The demand continues to escalate each month, underscoring the critical importance of sustained efforts to address the growing challenges faced by families in the region.”
Early years shape the adults they will become
She added: “AberNecessities was born from my experiences as a specialist and early intervention teacher, witnessing the profound impact of growing up in poverty on children’s development. The core needs of a child, from a simple nappy change to comfort, truly can shape their future and cognitive development.
“That is why our passionate team is dedicated to making a positive impact on these children because we know these early years will shape the adults they will become.”
Some people might be surprised or angry that there should be such hardship in a region which has been at the centre of a billion-pound energy boom in the last 50 years.
But Danielle can’t afford to be dragged into political battles or allow herself to be distracted as to reasons why this scenario unfolded. Whatever the cause, poverty exists in very tangible forms, whether in the spiralling use of food banks or the number of families who can’t afford even the most basic commodities for their loved ones.
Christmas brings its own pressures
In the weeks ahead, many people will be buying festive presents and organising Christmas parties with their friends and our TV screens will be packed with images of trees, tinsel, turkeys and all the trimmings we have come to expect in December.
But, of course, while the majority will enjoy their Yuletide holiday and gorge themselves, there will be plenty of others for whom it isn’t a wonderful life.
And Danielle spoke about the work she and her colleagues are doing to address that.
She told me: “Christmas is an especially difficult time of year for so many local families, as they experience heightened pressure during the festive season.
“The financial strain can make it difficult to meet traditional expectations of gift-giving and celebrations. This often leads to increased levels of stress, feelings of inadequacy, and a sense of exclusion for both parents and children.
“Our Believe in Magic campaign aims to alleviate this pressure by playing a crucial role in bringing joy and relief to families facing difficult circumstances.”
It’s hardly surprising that the commitment shown by Danielle and everybody else at AberNecessities has gained a heightened profile in recent months. And, just a few weeks ago, the organisation was rewarded with royal recognition.
As she said: “Receiving the King’s Award for Voluntary Service is a profound honour for AberNecessities. It validates the dedication and impact of our team’s voluntary efforts in supporting families facing poverty.
Our volunteers are unwavering
“Every day, men and women join us to ensure no child should go without. From lovingly packing gifts for a new mum to delivering a cot to ensure that a baby has a safe place to sleep, our volunteers work tirelessly alongside staff to provide items.
“Our volunteers’ dedication is unwavering and, without their time and effort, we wouldn’t be able to provide the same standard of service.”
“This recognition not only acknowledges the significance of our work, but also highlights the collective commitment to providing children with a better start in life. The award means so much to our team and has given us even more energy as we continue to work through our busiest time of year.
“We were also lucky to be chosen as one of three charities across the United Kingdom for the Princess of Wales ‘Baby Bank’ initiative during the pandemic.
“Since then, we have been incredibly proud to have continued our work with the Princess of Wales and the incredible ‘Shaping Us’ campaign which highlights the importance of early childhood. The recent symposium focused on social and emotional development of a child during pregnancy until the age of five.”
Work will continue in the year ahead
The organisation’s existence offers evidence of the gulf between the haves and have-nots in modern Scotland.
Yet, in the power and passion of Danielle Flecher-Horn, they have somebody who is actively confronting adversity and putting children first.
It’s a pretty sensational story when you think about it.
To support a local family this Christmas go to the charity’s campaign page
Five questions for Danielle
- What book are you reading? I’m currently reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus after a friend’s recommendation and loving it. I always read the book before watching the TV adaptation – I can never do it the other way round.
- Who’s your hero/heroine? My Grandmother, Mary. She was an incredible woman with the best cuddles. I think she would have agreed that the women I work with and those I support are heroines every day.
- Do you speak any foreign languages? I dabble in French but embarrassingly, I’m not very good, even with a French grandad.
- What’s your favourite music/band? Well, I’ve always loved the 60s, but now my car radio is a democracy and I’m a minority voter in a sea of kids pop!
- What’s your most treasured possession? My family. I tried to think of an item but nothing is more important, is it?