Partner: Peabody housing association
Location: Lambeth, South London
Date: 17th January – 28th March 2017
“[Creative Homes] helped us find new ways of playing, you made me realise it’s not about having lots of toys, you can use whatever you have”.
– Belinda, mother of three.
Hub Manager Helen Maier tells the story of how a piece of furniture dedicated to play helped a family settle into their new home and connect to their local community.
I’m making musical shakers with Gloria (18 months) and David (3 years), sitting on the floor of their small sitting room in a two-story semi-detached house in South London. Their mum Belinda sits with us, watching as the children drop dried corn into it their plastic bottle shaker.
“As you can see we’re still getting settled here”, she says gesturing to the three large sofas, two glass tables and some dining room chairs squeezed into the space. “We’ve been here a month but our last house had more space”.
Belinda takes me upstairs and shows me the bedroom that David and his older brother Eric (13 years) share. “Gloria sleeps in our room”, Belinda explains. “Since we only have two bedrooms”.
Eric is sitting on the top bunk of a metal bunk bed playing video games. “Have you finished that homework I gave you?” Belinda asks him.
“Yes’”, he mumbles.
“I’m still trying to find a school place for him since we moved”, Belinda tells me, shaking her head. “It’s not easy, settling into a new area”.
In the corner of the room there is a big wooden wardrobe, lots of plastic storage boxes stacked with a few soft toys and books around.
“We’re still struggling to find a place for everything”, she says, lifting up her shoulders and looking around the room.
“Maybe our special piece of play furniture can help?” I say.
Belinda laughs and shrugs. “Ok, let’s try it”.
About a month later we visit the family for the fourth time, just Belinda and Gloria today since David is at nursery. We climb upstairs to David and Eric’s bedroom but this time there’s a special piece of child-sized furniture against one wall. It has colour-coded sections for each category of play: dance, build, create, read and role-play.
Eric is sitting at his desk next to it on his laptop. He smiles when we come in. Gloria runs over to it and starts taking teddies out of the purple ‘role-play’ bag hanging on the side. ‘bop bop bop’ she says bouncing a stuffed rabbit along in the air. She goes to the “read” shelf that is full of books. She gets each one out, opens it points to different things and we say the words together. She sees a picture of a star she sings, “twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle”. Belinda laughs as we sing along.
When it’s time to tidy up Gloria puts everything back where she found it with a big smile on her face. Eric smiles and watches “Good work”, he says.
It’s been two months since I first met Belinda and her family when I stopped them in the street outside their house. It’s my last visit with them and I’m sitting with Belinda in her sitting room.
“Having you here has helped us find new ways of playing. I get now that you need to get down to your children’s level not stay up here as the adult. It doesn’t have to take long either. Even if I’m worried about other things, like finding a school for my oldest, we can still make time to play all together for 10 minutes. We feel better and when we’re finished they know how to tidy it up back into the shelves where it goes”.
Before I go I ask Belinda if there are any services she would like me to connect her to for further support. “I’d like to know about some Museums and Theatres we could go to with the kids”, she says. “It would be nice to explore”.
Date: October 2017 – March 2018
It’s March 2018. For the past three months Sadie has been attending our group hub sessions at her local L&Q Community Centre with her youngest daughter April (18 months), her husband Paul and during the school holidays her older daughter Stacy (10 years). They were the first family to attend 12 sessions so they have won a very special prize!
Sadie has told us how their living room at home feels over run by toys and she finds it hard to sort through what to keep and what to get rid of. Enter the 3rd iteration of our flexible play furniture unit.
When we arrive April is eating lunch at a little table and chair but after her mum and Sally start transferring toys into the new furniture unit she comes over to inspect and is soon playing shop with Sally on one of the play unit’s shelves.
The next week at playgroup Sadie tells me “We’ve been loving the play furniture. Yesterday we had the den up and I put the potty in there. After April’s bath she was naked and she went and got a book of the furniture shelf then sat down on the potty by herself, it was brilliant. Stacey’s been loving building dens off it as well”.
Later, when door knocking Sadie opens the door as we go past. I saw you coming, would you like to pop in and see what we’ve done with the furniture?” The family have moved the furniture to fit their space. “We’ve already moved a lot of toys in there”, says Sadie “and gotten rid of some”.
On the opposite wall hangs a a string hung with things the family have made together both at our playgroup and at home. A new addition since we’ve known them.
“We might need to add another string”, smiling up at the many creations her family has made together.