Gary Coy, a former City worker, began extensive charity work after losing his mother and wife.
The traumatic events led to the creation of his very own foundation which helps children in Croydon fund their academic and creative aspirations.
Coy found that helping others was a key factor in rebuilding his life after the loss of his loved ones.
Aged 27, he lost his mother to cancer.
Her death was sudden. She died just minutes after he got to the hospital.
“I swear she was holding on for us,” said Coy.
“I also saw her wave when we arrived but no one else saw it and it would have been impossible because she was heavily sedated.
“A bit spooky but evidence of our strong bond.”
Coy saw this loss as “preparation” for what he would go through with his wife, Nikki.
In the summer of 2008, his wife Nikki was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She received the all-clear, but just 21 days after Coy had left his finance job in the City to travel with Nikki after months of tiresome treatment, the cancer had returned, growing in her lungs and bones.
Nikki passed away, aged just 44, in October 2009.
Coy found this loss “earth shattering”.
After his wife’s death, he dedicated the majority of his time to charity work. Coy hosted wine tastings, ran a half marathon, sponsored races at Fontwell Park to name but a few. And today the fund in Nikki’s name stands at nearly £45,000.
In 2011, Coy was offered to become the governor of Rowdown Primary School in New Addington.
Looking back to his acceptance of the offer, Coy said: “I don’t think I would have become involved if Nikki had still been around… in a way it was grief that drove me to take on something like this.”
As governor, he noticed that some of the children were well ahead academically. But the school based in New Addington was faced with several social and economic problems so wasn’t able to progress them.
Coy said: “Nikki remains the real driver of the whole concept… the foundation has made me focus away from my loss.”
After consultation with the school’s headmaster, Coy set up the Rowdown Inspire to Aspire Foundation in April 2013. It seeks to help children fund their aspirations.
The most recent statistics from 2018 showed that in New Addington 44.5% of children were growing up in poverty.
Coy said: “I have visited the homes of many of the families we support, especially those on the Tuition Programme when I help them fill out their applications to independent schools.
“I help them fill out the financial forms and realise that their income is just about enough to survive on. They usually have children sharing bedrooms and little space for any child to study, let alone all of them.
“But they are all happy with their lot and don’t complain. They see the opportunity for their child to better themselves and grab it with everything they have. They are humble; grateful. They are not too proud to accept “charity” from the Foundation.”
By building relationships with local independent schools, the foundation has built its Tuition Programme. These schools now provide tutors for 48 children all over Croydon who wouldn’t have been able to afford this educational assistance.
Coy said: “The saddening moments are when the results of the 11+ come out. Not all the children are good enough to get offers from the schools and there is disappointment.
“That is inevitable but it doesn’t stop me feeling guilty for taking these children on a journey where the ultimate end is a dead end. The worst moments are when children receive offers from the schools but without any financial support.”
Even though there are limited bursary funds available at all the selective schools and they do try to make every effort to support the Rowdown Foundation applicants, Coy says there are just not enough funds to support all the kids.
“[T]he girls and boys receive offers but the parents can’t afford to pay the fees. I am sure they feel guilty that their own personal circumstances are then denying their child the education that their intelligence deserves.
“This is so frustrating for me. I only hope that the tuition has inspired these children to want to be a success so whatever secondary school they attend, they are top of the class for both effort and attainment. I am sure they will be a success wherever they go.”
‘Educating parents to aspire’
Despite some setbacks, the programme has successfully helped raise the total number of children from low-income households in Croydon placed in grammar and independent schools to 42 in six years.
“It’s not all about the foundation, but about the Foundation galvanizing people’s passion for social change,” said Coy.
The Foundation’s successes grow outside the classroom too; they support 13 children with clubs and music lessons. Coy hopes that there could be a young gymnast who without the Foundation couldn’t afford her training, and maybe in years to come could make the Olympics.
More recently, the foundation gathered and bought 50 second-hand laptops for children who didn’t have the resources at home to complete homeschooling.
Coy said: “There are the parents that really do care, but just don’t have the education themselves to know how to help their children beyond sending them to school.
“They don’t understand the education system too well and therefore don’t know how to get the most out of it… When we explain to them the options for grammar and independent schools because their children are intelligent enough, most have never realised that this is an option for them.
Coy remains the key driver in the foundation. He is the foundation’s admin, financial controller, parent liaison, strategic manager, relationship manager, and head of publicity.
For expansion in the future, he looks to hire a volunteer or two and help even more children outside of New Addington.
He is happily remarried and lives with his wife Cristina and her two children.
If you would like to support the Rowdown Foundation by volunteering or donating email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website.