ON THE GROUND: Friends United Network

Scheme: Friends United Network provides support to single parents and their children living in deprived inner city areas in London.

Funding: Received £150,000 grant over three years from the Community Fund.

Additional revenue comes from charitable trusts and organisations including the Children's Fund and BBC's Children in Need.

Objectives: To offer assistance and guidance to single parents and their children living in Islington and other districts in London who are experiencing hardship and distress.

When Francesa Weinberg first heard about a position at the Friends United Network, she immediately knew the job was for her. At the time Weinberg had recently split from husband and was well aware of the hardships single parents face. Nearly 14 years on, she has risen through the ranks to become director at the charity and considers herself a fortunate lone parent.

"I was lucky because my ex-husband still wanted to play an active part in my children's lives,

she says. "But many people don't have any kind of supportive network."

The charity Weinberg oversees helps fill the gap left by an absent parent, providing children with a volunteer who is there to listen to their problems.

The adult "befrienders

spend on average three to four hours a week with the child, visiting them at home or taking them to places such as the cinema, the park or local swimming. "The idea is to provide socially isolated children with long-term and positive one-to-one friendships,

says Weinberg.

"We find it's the simple things that the children want, like having someone who understands them, who they trust and who and is there for them while they are growing up."

The charity provides support to five to 16 year olds who live in deprived inner city areas of London. Many experience social exclusion, suffer from low esteem and do badly at school, and most are referred to the project by social or educational services.

At present the charity employs seven part-time workers and has 60 children matched with adults. The volunteers come from a range backgrounds from professionals to the unemployed, and the friendships last for a minimum of two years. In order to ensure the children's safety, each adult is thoroughly vetted and has to undergo training to learn to cope with demanding children.

Weinberg believes that having someone show a personal interest can make a lasting difference to a young person's life. "Just to have a place where people know you is very therapeutic to a child,

she says. "The scheme gives them a sense of community as well as friendship."

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