Marit Vestby, Hub Manager for Lewisham Homes, tells Betty and Rob’s Creative Homes story
The December rain beats against my umbrella as I walk to the Creative Homes group hub session at Honor Oak Community Centre in Lewisham. I hear noises, drumbeat, chanting and laughter. I open the door to the big sports hall full of soft play and bright colours and see the children all gathered around Creative Homes’ artist Helen as she takes them on a dinosaur adventure. But there’s another adult surrounded by the children too. I look closer to see who it is, it’s Betty – Rob’s mum!
Betty is a mum of four, and her youngest son Rob is twelve years younger than his closest siblings. She lives with her four children, her dad, four cats and two guinea-pigs. Rob is not in nursery so before our hub sessions started, Betty would stay home with Rob most of the day. “We play a bit together but he usually just does what he wants, playing with his toys and that”, she says.
We met Betty through door knocking on the Lewisham Homes estate where she lives and invited her and Rob to our hub sessions. For the first few weeks, Betty sat on the sides, not joining in with the stories and activities as Rob ran around exploring. But this week it’s different. Betty is the centre of attention, joining in the games and the dinosaur hunt, even coming up with playful ideas herself. Betty picks up a play tunnels and slides it over her, stamping about and making loud dinosaur sounds. The children around her laugh and make dinosaur noises back. Betty’s friend comes over, ‘I think this playgroup is just as important for Betty as for Rob’, she says.
‘Would you like us to come build a den at home with you and Rob?’ I ask Betty.
‘I don’t normally have people over,’ she said ‘I’ll think about it’.
After a few more weeks of playing together at the hub Betty welcomes us into her home. The house is full of tinsel and with a massive tree in the corner of the living room, Betty smiles, ‘This is nothing yet!’. We pop up some carboard boxes for a den and open our toolkit of den decorating supplies. Rob draws windows with his grandad who cuts them our for him, Betty makes tin foil bricks and glues them on the side. The three generations working together to create a den they were so proud of they still have it now, five months later.
Coming regularly to All In One Tuesdays playgroup is now a really important part of their weekly routine. ‘Rob knows if it’s Tuesday and I’m missing it, he will be grumpy with me! And if we walk past the road he will point towards the community centre.’ says Betty.
Doing messy play at home is now part of their weekly routine, using craft packs from Creative Homes, but also coming up with their own ideas. We helped Betty connect with her local community for play but also for support with health. Through our hub session at the local dentist Betty registered Rob for the first time. Betty also opened up to us about her concerns around Rob’s speech delay. We put her in touch with Beecroft Garden Children’s Centre where they run parent and toddler sessions specifically to help children with speech delay.
We know how difficult it can be for parent’s to feel confident enough to invite us to their house for the first time. It takes a great deal of trust to open their doors to us and that’s something that often takes time to build. Some families are happy to invite us into their homes and get to know us there but for others our hub sessions are a really important part of getting to know us and understanding the way we play. We work hard to gain trust by maintaining a regular and playful presence on estates, providing free hub sessions very locally where families can come and get to know us at their own pace. Play is at the heart of everything we do and that’s why we get to know families through play.