Hannah Dyson meets a community organiser determined to make life easier for parents and their children
Candice Charles has a vision for a community hub that feeds local residents from the produce of her allotment, but also provides information sessions and workshops for parents focusing on safety.
As we chat at Enfield Town Library’s cafe we admire the precious crocuses and daffodils swaying in the light breeze. It’s as if these spring offerings know we need to listen to Candice’s story. Her eyes light up when we talk about children, and she explains: “I’ve got three children with complex medical needs. My eldest has a heart condition and my middle son has autism.”
Candice’s middle son, now 22, suffers from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy and von Willebrand disease. “When he first displayed symptoms of epilepsy aged seven I knew I wanted to fight for him and researched what type of epilepsy he had and what medication he should take.
“In the end it was a piece of dark chocolate that he needs to keep the seizures at bay and doctors were astounded that, without any formal medical training, I worked this out through sheer determination and extensive research.”
Candice’s mother was a nurse so maybe it’s natural that she has an inbuilt fight in her and a caring nature.
“I am one of eight [children], my mother is from Aruba and dad is from Grenada. I’ve been a foster carer and childminder too.”
Candice’s road to fostering children wasn’t the conventional route. “I found three young girls in their school uniform on a Sunday morning at 4am. Not being a great sleeper, I noticed them outside as I was studying for a course. I took them into my house and took care of them. I informed social services, but they’re overworked and overstretched, so it was some time before they came over to do any formal assessment.”
Candice looked after the girls diligently with love, like they were her own.
“Another time I found a pregnant 15-year-old girl outside my house with bruises all over her, having been discharged back home the previous month by social services. My sons and I slept downstairs in the living room and let the her take the bedroom upstairs.”
Cuts in services, poverty, confusion and difficulties over benefits mean that people are really struggling. Over time, Candice has noticed more hardship, especially in the local school community where she does the school runs for her nephew.
“I’ve noticed many parents don’t have the means to feed their children.”
Candice started her allotment after her partner, Michael, suggested it to reduce stress. The Felix Project, a local charity repurposing surplus food supermarket produce, drops food off to school on a Friday and this is very popular among parents, but Candice noticed many don’t have working kitchens to actually make meals. She came up with the idea of a community kitchen, feeding people with the produce from her allotment, and hopes to run the project daily – but needs to find an additional venue and funding.
Candice adds: “Alongside the hot meals I plan to run some workshops focusing on child safety and safeguarding, including internet and phone safety.”
The future looks bright when you meet people like Candice, who has a positivity that knows no bounds and is fearless, wise and strong. Working with people from different nationalities and backgrounds it will be exciting to see the project in full swing, but it will only be a true success if lots of people get involved and help this inspirational woman with her vision. Her story shows how communities can come together not only to nourish but also to heal their hearts and minds.