Donna Martin at the Big Help Project

A caring student from Edge Hill University is putting her degree to good use by helping to run a Knowsley charity that is supporting vulnerable people throughout the festive season.  

As Edge Hill celebrates the work of staff and students who are going above and beyond over Christmas, the University wants to say a big thank you to mature Student Donna Martin for the amazing work she does to support the Big Help Project in Knowsley as their Senior Administrator and bid writer.  

Donna, from St Helens, who is currently in her second year of studying Politics and Sociology at Edge Hill, started working for the project in 2015. She helps the project achieve their core aim of feeding the hungry in Knowsley, without judgement or reservation, until the time that foodbanks are no longer needed. 

Donna explained: “The project started as the Knowsley Food Bank, but it quickly became clear that debt was a major cause for people seeking our help. We decided to become a holistic client-led service and the Big Help Project was born.  

“We want to empower clients to get out of poverty and into a bright future by offering training, careers advice and debt management advice as well as providing food, baby clothes and other basics for struggling families. In 2020 alone we have helped over 52,000 people and we’re expecting this year’s festive period to be our busiest yet.” 

The Big Help Project in 2019

Despite all she had achieved, Donna found that she had questions about why demand for the project’s services was still increasing. To find the answers she needed she applied to study combined Politics and Sociology at Edge Hill.   

Donna said: “I’m very opinionated but firmly believe you’ve got to back up your opinions with facts. I decided I had to take my interest in politics and social justice to the next level and learn more about the causes of poverty. Edge Hill offered the perfect course to help me to do exactly that. I’m enjoying every minute and the tutors are incredibly supportive and encouraging of my studies and my long-term plans.” 

Since starting her degree, she has used what she has learnt to take the Big Help Project’s cause to Westminster and has been working with the MP for Knowsley, George Howarth, to lobby the Government for changes to the benefits system.  

In July this year, with advice from Donna, the project’s Executive Chair Peter Mitchell wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions Will Quince to ask the government to reverse their decision to reintroduce benefit sanctions after a temporary pause earlier in the year. 

In September Minister for Employment Mims Davies responded but didn’t commit to pausing benefit sanction. She did however say that ‘collegiate debate is important and feedback from stakeholders is crucial to our decision-making process, especially in this uncertain time’.  

Encouraged by Ms Davies’ openness to debate around these issues, Donna has liaised with MP for Huyton The Rt. Hon. Sir George Howarth MP, who will enter the draw to ask an oral question on this subject in the new year.    

Following on from the success of her undergraduate course Donna wants to take her studies further with plans to do a Masters degree looking into the long-term health implications of Foodbank use. 

More about the Big Help Project, including volunteering opportunities and great ways to fundraise this Christmas season, visit their website - thebighelpproject.com or call the office on 0151 482 6089.  

The University also raises funds and collects food for local foodbanks and food donations for the Ormskirk Foodbank are currently being collected. To donate click on this link to our Just Giving page – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aisling-benson.  

Edge Hill University runs a number of courses in politics including BA (Hons) History & Politics, BA (Hons) Politics & Criminology, LLB (Hons) Law with Politics and BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology. Visit the website for more information.