Play with whatever you have

by Creative Homes

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”.

We met Belinda during a 2 month project on a South London housing estate and her family was just one of 30 families that we met over the course of the project. Although each family engaged with our project in their own unique way there were three main themes that seemed to connect many of them, including Belinda:

  • Big life transitions: from going back to work after maternity leave to settling into a new house, we met a lot of families who were right in the middle of some pretty stressful life transitions and it was a privilege to be on that journey with them as they met those challenges.
  •  Trust to experiment: so many families welcomed us into their homes and agreed to give play a go as a way to help change routines that were causing them stress.
  • Successful pathways: by the end of the project we helped make family pathways to further support in all of our three target areas:
    – Home: connected families to Peabody for help with essential home repairs
    – Health: helped families register with their local Children’s centre,
    – Play: connected families to their local Community Centre, to the Southbank Centre Imagine Festival and to information about family friendly Museums and Theatres they could access.

“Creative Homes team was brilliant from the outreach work through to project. Helen also signposted residents in need of specific support. That was greatly appreciated as we at Peabody do not get the chance to spend time with our residents as Creative Homes did in order to assess their needs”.
– Delia Gerbino, Community Development Worker, Community Investment, Peabody.

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