“Placement in temporary accommodation, often at a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net.”
Working Together to Safeguard Children. HM government Report.
What’s the problem?
At Kay Rowe Children’s Centre, we know that there are children under 5 living in cramped, unclean, and unhealthy temporary homes, literally on the same street as us.
We are not sure how many, because we are not seeing them at the children’s centre – a place where help, support and expert advice is waiting for them.
We started researching, talking to everyone we could think of, to find out. Farhana, who lives in temporary accommodation shed some light.
“Many mums are just staying in their rooms, they don’t know where to go, they don’t know anybody, they have got very low.”
This statement was backed up by figures we found in our research. We discovered that nine in ten of the people in temporary accommodation interviewed in Newham told us that they were experiencing worsening mental health because of their housing situation.
Farhana says of her time in a B&B on Romford Road:
“I needed somewhere to go. I was lucky to find the children’s centre, but when the morning session had finished I had to think ‘where can I go now’. I was breastfeeding I could not go to the hotel.”
It became clear that even getting to the children’s centre could be too tricky for women who were having to struggle every day to keep their children clean, do laundry, and cook healthily for the family – in such difficult conditions. We needed to offer something extra for these families.
Build it and they will come
The Magpie Project was born. We will provide a safe, supportive stay-and-play in the Froud Centre, and make families a healthy lunch to share – even give them something to take home for their evening meal too.
We hope that just having a place to go, to meet people, play with your child, and have lunch made for you, will start to help mums feel to better, less isolated, and listened to. We have been lucky that so many people have come together to help: Aston-Mansfield, Shelter, Newham NCT, the Womens Institute, local businesses, the Salvation Army, and individual volunteers – it is proof that, if the saying is right “it takes a village to raise a child” there are people in Newham who want be that village.
When mums do start to feel better, the Magpie Project will have a bank of professionals ready to help; housing advisors from Shelter the housing charity, community police, health workers, family workers from Kay Rowe and from Manor Park Children’s Centre, specialists for those facing abuse, even local councillors willing to take up problems officially – will be on hand.
And for mums who don’t feel ready for that, if they just want to come and play with their children and have a bite to eat, that will be fine too.
Our pilot is running Mondays and Tuesdays 10am – 2pm for 7 weeks from 5th June.
We know it is not enough – ideally, these families would have somewhere they could call home-from-home every day – somewhere where they could do their washing, even get a shower. By the end of this pilot, we hope to have worked with the families who attend, to map the ways in which they would like to be supported in the future, to prove that there is a need and to attract funding to carry it on.
Whilst we can’t promise to solve the housing crisis, we do hope come up with a timely, practical, effective and compassionate responses that helps limit the damage that temporary accommodation can do to the health, relationships, and well-being of the families, and children under five, that are caught up in it.
Why under fives?
We know that school age children are suffering too – but there are excellent projects and professionals already in place to work with them at schools and externally – including the brilliant Stratford-based charity School Home Support.
Newham has an acute housing problem with 50% of people living in private rented accommodation and 50% of that deemed inadequate for the families’ need.
Honestly, we should have done it before. But the need is not going away. The number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation has risen by 250% since 2009.
Twitter : @MagpieprojectE7
Facebook: Magpie Project
C/O Kay Rowe Nursery and Children’s Centre