At Creative Homes many of the parents we work with are not native to England and have to adjust to living in a new place and culture at the same time as raising small children.
Lead Artist and Hub Manager Helen Maier tells the story of one mother’s struggle to overcome isolation in a new city.
I’m standing outside the door of a flat on a South London housing estate loaded with cardboard and den building toolkit. Tanice opens the door. She has her 15 month old twins around her, Keneil on her hip and Aldane holding on to her legs. She welcomes us into the narrow front hallway. We squeeze past the double mattress blocking the stairs and into the front room. We get out our multi-coloured mats and build a rainbow. Keneil joins in right away but Aldane clings to his mum and buries his head in her breast. When she puts him down he starts crying and doesn’t settle down for a long time.
“I’ve tried to take them to the crèche so I can work”, says Tanice “but Aldane was so upset he made himself sick, vomiting a few times. The staff told me they could not have the boys unless they calmed down. In Jamaica I had a good job but I can’t work here”.
Next week we’re back again, this time in character as the Play Inspectors. The boys have some toy cars so we get out a piece of cardboard and make a racetrack. Keneil colours the track red. Aldane holds onto his mum so she gets down from the sofa and sits on the floor with him in her lap, reaching round and colouring the track. “’Eer, like this”, she says. We get out play dough and make houses and trees. Aldane gets up from his mum’s lap and plays with the dough next to his brother. Tanice rolls the playdough between her large hands “this is fun”, she says.
The following week Tanice opens the door alone. “Where are the boys?” I ask. “Come and see”, she says. We walk into the living room and there’s the den with the racing track we made and bits from our door knocking packs, all set up. Aldane is playing with toy cars on the track and I can hear Keneil rustling around in the den. He emerges holding a plastic lid. I follow as he takes the lid into the kitchen and repeatedly bats it against the wall, throws it and tries to fit it in every space he can in the kitchen. He grunts while he does but does not talk. When we come back the Play Inspector has made a little table out of foam mats with Aldane and Cherie. Keneil runs to the table, leans on it and it collapses. Aldane looks at him then picks up two foam mats and tries to put them together again.
Knock, knock, knock. The door opens, Keneil and Aldane toddle down the corridor and both give me a hug. Tanice straps them into the big double push chair and slowly wheels it down the steep flight of stairs from her flat. We join the rest of the families in front of the housing estate office to walk to the local children’s centre together.
“It was fun seeing you at the Myatt’s Field Summer Fayre on Saturday?” I ask Tanice.
“Yes”, she smiles, showing her large, white teeth. “We loved making the fruit hedgehogs and the boys are still playing with those sticks you decorated with them”.
We arrive and Tanice maneouvers her push chair through the front doors, it’s her first time at the centre. During the cooking session Keneil chops lots of bananas. When the fruit salad is finished Tanice eats with the boys. Aldane eats a few slices of banana and rocks back and forth on his little wooden chair. “Rock it, Aldane, Rock it. Rock it, Aldane rock it”, Tanice says with a big smile on her face.
So many of the parents we work with feel disconnected from their local communities and often aren’t aware of all the free services that available to them in their neighbourhood. Our group hub sessions and trips to local play and cultural venues, like Children’s Centres and libraries, helps build parent’s knowledge of local services and gives them the support they need to feel confident accessing these services again and again.
Our regular visits with Tanice, Aldane and Keneil meant that the family were able to enjoy a wider variety and better quality of play together both in and out side their home.
*All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy