Alison Tsang is the Project Manager for the LifeSavers project and is based with Young Enterprise. Here she writes about the launch of the project which aims to help children develop long-lasting and healthy relationships with money.

Finally, September rumbles around,  and it’s an exciting time for me. After several months of meetings, planning, talking and preparing, the ‘LifeSavers’ pilot project is actually starting in the six schools selected. Like a nervous parent, sending off my child through the school gates for the first time, I can hardly wait to see how they find it.  

LifeSavers is an initiative coming from the Archbishop’s Task Group on Responsible Credit and Saving, and it’s goal is to support primary schools and their communities in learning about money and it’s place in our lives- for children to learn to manage money well now and in the future. 

It aims to do this through three strands of activity: a practical savings club run within the school, in partnership with the local credit union, where children get to handle and save small amounts of cash regularly;  classroom materials and training for teachers, alongside whole-school acts of worship, designed to explore what money is and values around it; and a programme to engage parents, carers and the wider school community, so that learning and behaviour changes around money impact the whole family in a more lasting way.

It’s quite an ambitious venture, and that’s why we’re working closely with just six schools, each in very different cultural and socio-economic settings, and asking them to work with us in partnership to try it out. We’ve asked them to advise us how the activities would work best in their setting, and also in a way that works for the local credit union as well.  For example, one smaller, more close-knit school are choosing to open up the savings club to the entire school, with the hope that even younger siblings will join.  Another much larger school in an inner city setting has said they will initially target one year group, year 4, to start with, but will give over large amounts of time for the pupils to help run the savings club, be invited to save, and use the classroom resources intensively across the curriculum.

However there are some key features and themes that we are finding important for all settings. Practically, savings clubs will all be run before school, and run with cash, so that children handle real money. They will all have an emphasis on the regularity of saving, not the amount. Each school needs  local church or community volunteers who are committed to help, and all schools will also involve the pupils in running the savings club too.  A strong and trusting relationship with the local credit union, many of whom are volunteers themselves is also vital. Ownership of the project within the school is really key to success too, so schools are being encouraged to name and brand their own savings club, with each child being given their own ‘passbook’ as a mark of investment in it. One school is running a competition to design a logo, and having a whole school ‘Money Day’ to launch the project, when the winner will be announced. It’s inspiring to see how enthusiastic and creative the schools have been in their plans, despite the huge numbers of other pressures they have on them!

Another big piece of work behind the scenes has been hammering out a framework of what LifeSavers is actually trying to achieve,  a ‘Theory of Change’; essentially setting out what LifeSavers will do in schools,  and how we think that will make a difference.
One of the key things has brought home to me, once again, is that the LifeSavers model is built on relationships. Relationships between the school and the local credit union, either made for the first time, or strengthened. Relationships with credit unions across the country, who have been generous to share their huge expertise over years of running school savings clubs already. Relationships between the school and local church, keen to get involved to bless what is happening. Relationships between the children and their parents, and how we can encourage more of a ‘whole family’ approach to talking about and learning about money. And, of course, our own complex relationship to money itself, exploring some of the values we hold around it.

We’ve spent several months getting to know the credit unions involved, the schools and their teachers, and the church leaders, and building relationships of trust on which we can start planning this exciting piece of work . These strong relationships will be vital in the next stage, of actually ‘doing it’, so we all can be honest about what is working well and what issues come up or things that need to change . Given this is a pilot, we are not expecting to get everything right straight away!

Relationship building can be messy, hard work,  and initially doesn’t seem to ‘achieve’ much. But they are vital. Relationships are the key to any kind of honest and long lasting behavioural change. Yes, they take energy, and take time, but they’ll bear fruit in a way that a ‘quick’ intervention just won’t.

This project is teeming with relationships, but ones that we hope and pray will help it to give the children who are taking part in LifeSavers a really long lasting and healthy relationship with money, now and right into their adult lives.