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About Free to Be Kids:
We help some of the most disadvantaged children in London to change their stories about who they are and who they can become.
Many of our children struggle to engage with more traditional forms of help. Families often distrust professionals and children arrive with very limited horizons, feeling they are somehow broken, 'a problem', or a failure.
We use adventures in the outdoors, residential breaks designed to build confidence and self-worth, one-to-one mentoring and youth leadership programmes, to support vulnerable children to feel included, proud and successful, often for the first time in a long time. In turn this transforms their capacity to believe in themselves, to reach their full potential, and ultimately to do better at school and in relationships with others. Free to Be projects are built around our belief that every child deserves to experience joy and adventure within their childhood. By getting a bit muddy, learning to care for animals, working together to build a raft and paddle across a lake, or camping out under the stars for the first time, we help children with limited expectations of themselves to see just how much they really can achieve.
We work with some of the most disadvantaged children in London. Living in families featuring significant challenges - ranging from domestic abuse, parents experiencing mental health challenges, needing to act as Young Carers, or just growing up in overcrowded housing with no access to outdoor space, our children have been particularly severely impacted by Covid. More than 1 in 10 have experienced the death of a family member, and none have any other access to the types of horizon broadening opportunities our residential projects provide. In response to Covid we're aiming to offer more places than ever before on our nature based residentials through 2021-22.
99% of young people we supported in 2019 showed an increase in social confidence or self-esteem. 82% showed a very significant increase.
100% developed new social skills, including better managing frustration or better trusting and working with adults.
100% of schools reported lasting changes in emotional wellbeing and behaviour, including children's increased capacity to work with others and improved belief in their own potential.
Jade (12) witnessed serious domestic violence whilst younger, has no contact with her Dad, and a very difficult relationship with her Mum. She had no friends other than online acquaintances, and hadn’t left the house socially in over a year, resulting in her only attending school for 20 days in 2017. Despite having a social worker, outreach worker and CAMHS worker, at huge cost, little change had occurred in years and there were real concerns about depression and risk of exploitation.
Despite her difficulties leaving the house, Jade agreed to trial coming on a week’s residential with Free to Be – simply as a break. Whilst with us she was part of a group for the first time in a year. She had close support from empathetic volunteers, learned to light a campfire, walk through the woods in the dark, and canoe across a lake. When she capsized, her new friends helped her out of the water. Instead of feeling stuck, angry and alone, Jade was helped to feel adventurous, included, purposeful and successful. By the end of the project Jade was smiling, no longer isolated and had made a good group of friends. She was supported to have fun, challenge herself in ways which felt manageable, and begin to talk through challenges rather than avoid them.
Spending over 60 hours’ of positive, affirming time with adults , equating to more than a year’s worth of social work or similar intervention, provided the intensive support Jade needed to begin to feel differently about herself and the world. Jade is now working with a mentor from Free to Be, whom she feels able to trust having spent time with them on the residential. She is keen to volunteer as a Young Leader, has cautiously begun attending a youth group local to her house, and is beginning to re-engage with school.
Last year Dylan (aged 9) told teachers that he and his mum had been made homeless and were living in a derelict warehouse with no water, electricity or heating. Dylan’s mum struggled with mental health problems and there were real concerns about neglect. Although they were soon re-housed, Dylan’s school were worried that Dylan’s view of himself was in tatters. He never felt brave enough to answer questions in class, had no friends at school, and when asked what he would like to be when he grew up, answered “someone else”.
Dylan came on a Free to Be gateway project this summer. He was helped to feel brave enough to climb the leap of faith, worked in a group to navigate the woods at night, and lay by the campfire telling stories and sharing memories with the other boys in his group - something he would never have felt confident enough to do in school. Now matched to a Free to Be mentor whom he trusts having already met them during the residential, Dylan’s school are thrilled with his progress. He has made new friendships, presents as much more positive, and is doing much better academically.
Meena (11)’s mum struggles with mental health issues. Meena has no contact with her father and her elder brother is in prison.
Earlier this year Meena sent a note by text message, saying she wanted to commit suicide. Although attending counselling as a result, she would clam up not feeling able to speak, and school described her as regularly presenting as sad, alone, defiant and angry. Meena struggles with body image, and gets little or no exercise. Mum turned down the school’s offer of group support and school had reached a point where they could no longer cope.
Meena agreed to trial coming on a Free to Be residential break in August 2018. On the first night she was too shy to join in a game of tag because she felt the other girls would laugh at her for not being able to run far. By the end of the week, the group cheered her on when she ran with them from one side of the football pitch to the other. It took our volunteers over half an hour to coax her into a kayak, but when she eventually risked it and paddled out into the lake, she was grinning from ear to ear. Immediately afterwards, she asked to phone home and proudly told her mum all about it. At the end of the week, Meena told us she had pushed herself to try so many new things and couldn't believe what she had managed to do. We've now secured funding for Meena to return on a year’s worth of follow up projects to build on the progress she has made so far.
"Free to Be has really changed my life. The attention I got from the adults was just unreal. I could actually trust someone outside my family and that was really helpful. Before, I wasn’t really an outgoing person, but it's weird because now I’m motivated to do things - it unlocked that door for me."
Jordan, Aged 16
(Excluded from school age 13, now helping train our other Young Leaders)
Free to Be Kids
Growing children's emotional health
Run the 2021 London Marathon for Free to Be Kids
The London Marathon is a unique event and the biggest annual fundraiser in the world. Are you up for the challenge of completing it, whilst also helping to fund horizon-broadening residential projects for some of the most disadvantaged children in London?
Our charity places are limited. To be in with a chance of securing one of them, please apply below to complete an application form. When considering applications, we'll be looking to offer places to runners who are able to leverage the most support for our children, so do take time to provide detail on your ideas and/or previous fundraising experiences when completing your application.
If you are successful in securing a place, you will be notified by mid-March and there will be a £100 registration fee. We will ask that you commit to raising a minimum of £2,100 through sponsorship and donations.
In return you will receive:
A personalised Free to Be technical running vest to wear on race day
Virtual meets with the Free to Be team pre-race day
Fundraising support from the Free to Be team
Cheers and high fives along the course (Covid restrictions dependent!)
The coveted London Marathon Medal and finished shirt if you complete the course
Jordan, aged 15
If you already have a place via the runners' ballot but are looking for a charity to run for, we'd really love to hear from you. Just drop us a line at to join our running team.