Waving Farewell to Our Co-Founder After 22 Years
On Friday 28th January 2022, we waved a fond farewell to Future Projects' Co-Founder Sonia Bush. Our CEO, Daniel Childerhouse, has written about Sonia's impact on the disadvantaged communities of Norwich:
Sonia is a truly inspirational woman who has, over the course of 22 years, done so much for her community that it's hard to capture it all here. If you have an interest in community development, charity work and social action, then I recommend taking a few minutes to read this!
In the year 2000 Sonia and her close friend Dawn Jackson MBE saw that something was deeply wrong in their community in West Norwich. Intergenerational poverty, marginalisation, low skills, high unemployment, poor health, high levels of crime were all major issues. Students of the local high school (which was in the bottom 10 in England at the time!) were wandering the streets and falling in to drugs, crime and hopelessness.
The area sat very firmly in the top 1% most deprived in England (IMD Stats). But Sonia and Dawn saw nothing but potential; a community bustling with life, connected, and sharp as a razor.
So they decided to take action and engage those kids that wouldn't go to school, because school wasn't designed for them. They began with an informal youth club; no equipment, no money, no resources. Just two people asking young people, possibly for the first time ever, what THEY wanted.
In time this grew to incorporate partnerships with education providers to work differently in order to give these children a chance to learn. Sonia worked with agencies - including the police - to ensure these children would not be criminalised, and linked with health and social services to ensure her community was no longer left behind.
The NR5 Project (as it was then known) registered first as a company in 2002, then as a charity in 2004. This enabled our founders to attract investment and to properly resource their work.
Later, the charity moved into a house on Earlham Road and began delivering more formal activities to engage and support local children and adults. The living room was a classroom, the bedroom became a music and radio studio - because that's what the community asked for!
Sonia focused on the strengths that existed in the community at a time when other services were only focused on the problems.
Over years of hard work the charity began to grow, but always remained true to the vision of Sonia and Dawn. Rooted in the community, the charity should always listen, understand, work with, and adapt to the needs of the community.
In 2007 Future moved to its larger premises in Motum Road on the Larkman housing estate to accommodate the growing provision - with short term FM radio licences and contracted education services for children with behavioural difficulties. In 2009 the charity opened a second venue in the Marlpit Housing estate to provide adult-specific advice and guidance services.
In 2009 the education service became a registered Independent Special School (subject to the dreaded Ofsted Inspections!) and began a long process of professionalization and improvement. It is in the School that Sonia continued to put her time and attention, ensuring that children with traumatic childhood experiences and SEND could get the type of education they deserved.
In 2010 we achieved our full time FM licence for Future Radio to broadcast 24/7 and quickly took on over 150 volunteers, providing training, skills and the chance for our diverse communities to have their voice heard. This was followed up with a D.A.B. licence in 2015.
In 2016 the charity opened another venue in Norwich and began expanding its adult support work County-wide.
From humble beginnings with just two volunteers and a handful of young people, Sonia has seen the organisation grow to the influential, regional charity it is today; with 60 members of staff, 70 volunteers and a turnover of over £2m per year.
During this time Sonia Bush took on a number of roles to support the charity to develop and grow, from Project Worker in youth services, to Behaviour Support and Deputy Headteacher in the charity’s school.
Today, Future Projects supports thousands of people each year through homelessness projects, employment support programmes, volunteering opportunities, training courses, food hampers, therapeutic education, criminal justice support, welfare rights and money management help, social isolation projects and more.
Without the commitment and dedication of Sonia Bush over the course of two decades, none of this would have been possible. So in addition to farewell, I say thank you. Thank you for the jobs you created within your community. Thank you for the investment you attracted to your community. Thank you for the services and support you've developed in your community. Thank you for the children who you've given a chance to flourish. Thank you for the families you have helped to navigate their challenges.
And most of all, thank you for being an inspiration to us all.