This Sussex Life. Simone Robinson: “We didn’t realise how much we would enjoy giving”

Simone Robinson with this year's collection of books and items for local schools

Staff member Simone Robinson, who organised the collection, with just one of five tables' worth of gifts donated by Sussex staff to in-need children.

L-R: Chief Operating Officer, Tim Westlake; Doctoral School Administrator, Simone Robinson; first recipient of the Sussex gift bags, Vera Brackenbridge; and Age UK Communities and Inclusion Development Manager, Roisin Murphy

For the past four years Simone Robinson, Co-ordinator for Business Engagement in the Sussex Innovation Centre, has organised Christmas collections across campus for communities and individuals in need. This year nine local schools are benefitting from donations of books, art materials and musical instruments from Sussex staff and students.

I know there are horrendous problems in the world, but I can’t contemplate them. I respond to what’s immediate and how we can help the community that we all live in. These are people we pass in the street, or that we live next door to. Everyone knows someone with cancer, or a family that’s struggling, or kids at schools that are struggling. 

Primary schools are really desperate for books, glue sticks, paint … We know that teachers are buying coloured paper and their own star stickers. When we contacted schools to ask what they needed, they gave us a big list. We know they’re providing the curriculum, but they’re really struggling to get these extras. It’s been great to see how our campus community has responded, not just with giving books, but also with musical instruments and art equipment.

This all started when a work colleague had aggressive breast cancer. At the time I was working in Research & Enterprise. We wanted to do something, so we organised a Macmillan Coffee Morning. We didn’t realise how much we would enjoy giving. It’s a great well-being exercise.

We want to give things, not money. So for the first year, in 2016, we contacted Brighton & Hove City Council and asked them to suggest which children locally we could give to. They said the children with MASH [Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub] often get overlooked by charities. These are children who are on the at-risk register but who are at home with parents with all kinds of difficulties. I put the word out and we had so much from all across campus that we were able to give 500 gifts to 90 families.

I had a wonderful letter from a single mum who’d had an horrendous time with a partner who had beaten her up and threatened her child. She had been given tickets for Holiday on Ice at the Brighton Centre. You wouldn't think that a show could be so important, but the kindness made a world of difference to her.

In 2017 there was a lot of publicity about food banks, and we got involved with Brighton and Hove City Mission food bank. We had food collection bins across campus. People were throwing in tins of beans, but also other stuff that people really need, such as sanitary products. We collected half a ton of food in our six-week campaign.

Last year we asked people to donate gifts for goody bags for the elderly, which were distributed through Age UK. We were responding to a survey that suggested Brighton had some of the loneliest hotspots in the country, with people not seeing another human being for weeks. 

I heard about one old lady who lived in a tower block and left her door open just so that she could see people walking past. She was told she ran the risk of being mugged and robbed, but she said she just wouldn’t see anyone otherwise. Eventually people began popping in for a chat, or asking if they could get her anything from the shop, and it opened up a community that was closed behind a door.

I’ve done quite a bit of crying since starting this. Very few of us are untouched by tragedy, so we’re not asking people to draw on depths they don’t have. What has really come out of this is that the staff here are ordinary, good people, with a very strong sense that yes, we can have an impact on the community we live in.


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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 19 December 2019

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