Something positive to have come out of the coronavirus pandemic is a true sense of community and kindness. Since the start of lockdown, Grimbarian Zane Powles has made national headlines with his selfless acts, ensuring vulnerable children in Grimsby not only continue to receive free school meals, but are safe in their homes too.
Zane, who was born in Grimsby, admits to having a tough start to life. At 16, after leaving school with no qualifications, he joined the Army and the Grenadier Guards, guarding the Queen and participating in prestigious displays including Trooping the Colour and the State Opening of Parliament. After leaving the Forces, he had several jobs before returning to college to re-take his GCSEs, complete A-Levels, and gain a teaching degree.
For around 15 years, Zane has taught local children in some of Grimsby’s most deprived areas and is now an Assistant Headteacher at Western Primary School. Here, he teaches and runs a behavioural unit to support pupils who struggle to communicate.
“You need patience. A lot of children, especially those in behavioural units, have no way to communicate apart from verbal or physical abuse, because that’s their life at home. I do understand how they feel, so finding a way in, in any way that you can to help them is what drives me. These kids are tough cookies, they have a tough life and if you can get in just a little bit, you can make a big difference. My childhood wasn’t the best and I just would like to make a difference to those kids that find that life’s a bit tough sometimes. Not through their own fault, but just because life’s tough. That drives me, to help that child that I was.
“Lockdown began and I just thought, how are the kids going to get their meals? A lot of kids rely on free school meals so how are they going to get theirs? And then we have a lot of vulnerable kids at the school as well, how are we going to make sure that they’re OK? Most of our parents are proud parents and do their very best. Some try their very best but perhaps don’t have the safest house in the world and have their own issues, how are we going to make sure they’re all OK? So, I thought I could try and deliver them.”
Throughout lockdown, Zane walked over 550 miles around Grimsby carrying 7,500 lunches.
“We started the day at around 7am. Every day me, the Head and Deputy Head would make the pack-up lunches and put them all in the rucksack. I’d have the rucksack on my back, some on my front and then the crisps on my side because I didn’t want them to get squashed, and then just walked. They introduced vouchers but that meant that parents would have to leave the house, sometimes with 2, 3, 4 or more kids, and they don’t want to be going to the shops with 3, 4 ,5 kids, it wouldn’t be a good experience. Also, if they have vouchers, how am I going to make sure that everything is OK in the house? Then in week 3 we introduced jacket potatoes and beans, which only increased the weight, so in the end I was carrying about 50 kilos a day.
“I set out to do it, and the school set out to do it because it was the right thing to do. I’m just doing my job in a completely different way than I ever expected to do it. That’s all I was doing, making sure our kids were safe. Our school motto is ‘a school that cares’, showing the kids that we care for you in school but actually, when times are tough, we still care for you at home as well and do whatever we can.”
This summer, Zane set out on a mammoth 1,300 mile charity bike ride, cycling unsupported to castles of the British Isles’ capital cities, starting and ending at Cleethorpes’ Ross Castle. The goal was to raise £5,000 for two charities; Meals & More, who support vulnerable children throughout the school holidays to eradicate ‘holiday hunger’, and FLAG, a local charity providing SEND children with recreational activities and a safe, supportive place to build independence skills. Zane has smashed his original target, raising over £10,000.
Zane has also joined the taskforce of footballer Marcus Rashford’s high profile campaign to #endchildfoodpoverty, meeting with supermarket CEOs and contributing to a letter that has been delivered to the Prime Minister, urging action. In September, Zane returned to his day job, teaching children in Grimsby.