Are you a mum on maternity leave? Become a MoM with us!

It is so easy to help out mums with children under five who are living in insecure accommodation. It is as simple as making friends. Simply come along, play, and then go with our mums and minis to another fun session during the week.

We ask for a commitment of 6 weeks only and you will get full training, support and supervision.

What could be nicer than becoming part of the wider community and doing some good just by being yourself and doing what you would be doing anyway with your baby.

Get in touch to talk it through – the first group of volunteers started in September and have been successful in creating community and accompanying our mums to outside events.

Join our new tranche of mums and be part of the Magpie magic.

contact us to find out more.

 

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We asked the Mayor about the use of B&Bs: this is the response….

At the first full council meeting under Rokhsana Fiaz’s Mayoralty (Mayorship?!) we asked a question – on behalf of our mums and minis who are still being placed in hotels such as the one below – about the use of B&Bs for families.

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She answered. See our question and her response here. We LOVE the words “compassion and care”. We understand – maybe better than most – the enormity of the problem. But we are SO heartened by this transparent and straightforward response.

Question 19 from the Magpie Project

 Southwark council have eliminated the use of paid by the night bed and breakfast accommodation for families. Our social services and housing departments are still placing families fleeing domestic violence or families with children in this poor quality, noisy, intimidating environment. Can the council pledge to move towards a goal of no families with children in b and b accommodation by end 2019.

The Mayor has pledged to tackle homelessness with compassion and care, and the new administration will be looking to transform our homeless services and develop innovative forms of temporary accommodation, as well as increasing the delivery of council-owned homes at social rents. However, we are in the early stages of this new administration, and the scale of the challenge is significant.

 

Unfortunately changes in the Housing market and the Housing Benefit regime since 2011/12 has acted to increase both the numbers and the length of use of this type of temporary accommodation to meet our statutory responsibilities. In 2011/12, the Council received 624 homelessness applications, of which 248 were accepted, but by 2017/18 this had grown to 1793 of which 1143 were accepted.

 

Over the same period 2012 – 2018, the Council has seen the demand for nightly paid accommodation increase, whereby 148 households were in this form of accommodation in March 2012, but this had risen to 2904 households at the end of March 2018. Unfortunately, current forecasts are indicating that these numbers could continue to grow.

 

It has been this Council’s practice for some years to avoid the use of bed and breakfast/shared accommodation for homeless households who have dependant children or a member of the household is pregnant. The Council’s response has been to procure only self contained accommodation for this household group, albeit nightly paid, whilst it is determined whether the Council owe the main homelessness duty.

 

In the circumstances as part of work designed to transform the homelessness offer a health and safety survey has been commissioned for this year of all temporary accommodation, which has commenced with looking at that which is nightly paid. This will culminate in a comprehensive tenant survey.

 

However it is clear that alternative move on accommodation to that which the Council has relied upon for a number of years will continue to reduce and therefore the Council will be  looking at innovative ways in meeting the manifesto pledge to provide additional accommodation at affordable  rents, which includes a  programme of purchasing property, converting Council buildings where appropriate, considering the use of modular housing schemes on the many sites with a meanwhile use in the Borough and collaborative  procurement of private rented sector accommodation with London Councils.

 

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D’s extraordinary journey

When D came to us in June 2017 she and her four children were living on a friend’s sofa.

She had no recourse to public funds and was living on £37 a week – for herself and four children, one of whom has a chronic health condition.

Practical help to start

We supported her by applying for emergency funds through South West Ham Children’s Fund, supplying nappies, toiletries, wipes, food, clothes, and referred her to a food bank.

Empowering introductions to services

Through local councillor Dianne Walls D was able to challenge the level of support she was receiving.

She worked with Shelter and the London Black Women’s Project on her case – while her two youngest children – adorable and characterful boys – played happily with and other children volunteers.

With their help, D was able to make a plea to social services that she needed support and was rehomed into temporary accommodation in November 2017.

Learning, taking part, contributing

D took part in every workshop going:
Financial Capability (she knew more about avoiding debt, being frugal, and which bills to prioritise than the professionals.)
Child weaning, potty training, singing, dancing.

 

D was amazed by our vegan soup and loved it – taking home extra to cook whenever she could. She surprised herself because as she said “I only ever liked meat before!”.

OK she did love Farah from Shelter’s  tandoori chicken at the christmas party too!

Leave to remain!

In February 2018 the news that we had all been waiting for: D was granted indefinite leave to remain in the country by the home office. After years of waiting patiently for the wheels of the system to turn, we were there! (Maybe a few people on the team cried with joy that day, not naming names of course!).

All that the family is entitled to

With the help of the family support worker at the local children’s centre that we put her in touch with she has applied for all benefits due to her.

Now she is actively seeking work through agencies at residential care homes – she will work at night while her children sleep so that she can still look after them in the day.

D and her four children have been rehoused in Manor Park.

She is now a founder member of our steering committee, and has introduced volunteers and other families to the project.

She is a beacon of hope for the mums who are still in difficult situations.

Thank you!

For her endurance, patience, and strength her easy laugh and massive grin- even at the darkest of times – we admire here so much.

This is our love letter to you D. Keep on being you – we are in awe!

To help women like D and her children. Please give what you can. We are not funded by local authorities.

 

To help families such as Ds please donate to our crowdfunding appeal.

Or get in touch to ask us about regular giving.

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We are moving to MAGPIE CLOSE

 

Our new home is going to be:

The Lodge, Forest Lane Park, Magpie Close, E7 9DD.

 

It is a gorgeous little place, with a playground right next to it, on the edge of a park.

Perfect for our little ones to run, jump, get muddy and be kids, all under the watchful eye of their mums and our highly skilled and attentive volunteers.

Why?

After less than a year in existence we have outgrown our first home. The wonderful Aston Mansfield led by Claire, made the Magpie Project possible by allowing us the use of a room in the Froud Centre for zero rent.

We never thought we would fill it. But we are regularly getting more than 40 mums arrive in desperate need of help, housing advice, a friendly face and somewhere safe and welcoming for their under five to play.

So we are having to make a move.

How will you get there?

Nearest train stations are:

Forest Gate, overland train (to be Elizabeth line)
Maryland, overland train (to be Elizabeth line)
Stratford, overland and tube.

Buses:
308 (Wanstead to Lea Bridge Roundabout. Get off at St James School)
Or 25 or 86 bus and cross the bridge from Romford Rd on to Forest Lane.

When?

We are moving from in over the Easter break and back with the same service and more space from April 16th at 10am.

We look forward to seeing you there.

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet our Trustees

Dianne Walls OBE

Dianne has been retired seven years from her post as a head teacher of a nursery school and children’s centre and has served as a local councillor for Forest Gate South. Her career as a teacher started in Newham, where she has lived since 1972. After teaching in secondary schools for twelve years, Dianne retrained to work in nursery and primary education, while working part-time. Most of her career has been in East London. She has served as a local councillor for a total of sixteen years, most recently since 2014. From 2011-2014 Dianne worked in the office of the MP for West Ham, as a volunteer dealing with casework and education issues. In 2015 she was awarded the OBE for services to education and the community. This reflected the excellent work done in the nursery school and children centre concerning child and staff development, in addition to parent and community involvement.

Dianne has a wide range of experience in supporting children and families who are going through a similar range of difficulties to the Magpie families.

On a personal note, Dianne has brought up a family in Newham and now has ten grandchildren most of whom live in East London and have attended school in Newham.

Dianne leads on early years for the trustee board.

Amy Ross

Amy has worked in the charity sector for over 10 years, with various roles spanning fundraising, campaigning, project management, strategy and planning.

She is currently Director of Operations and Senior Consultant at Keystone Accountability, where she overseas the internal operations of the charity and helps social change organisations to improve their performance by harnessing feedback from their service users. After moving to Forest Gate in 2014, and after years of working in the international development sector, Amy felt driven to apply her experience and learning to a cause more local to home.

After hearing about the families that come to The Magpie Project, and with young children of her own, Amy was compelled to offer her support. She joined the Fundraising Committee in September 2017 and was appointed to the board of trustees in February 2018.

Amy takes a lead on fundraising on the board.

Yasmin Raza

Yasmin joined the Board of Trustees in 2018. She has a background in inclusive financial policy and FinTech, and has worked across financial regulation (FCA), consultancy (EY), and, now works in government (House of Commons).

She is passionate about creating a fairer and more inclusive society and promoting a financial system that works well for both people and planet.

She was drawn to The Magpie Project after hearing about the challenges that mums and minis face. As a former primary school assistant and daughter of a migrant to the UK, she felt a connection with the Magpie Project values.

Yasmin leads on regulations and strategy development on the board.

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Buy bespoke hand made jewellery and be part of the Magpie magic

We cried tears of emotion when Jeff and Andi from the amazing local emporium Number 8 Forest Gate suggested making us their charity of the year and designing bespoke jewellery to in our honour.

A fixed amount from each sale goes to helping our mums and minis (£300 and counting!).

This is the core collection but Jeff is adding special limited edition pieces throughout the year (Valentines, Mother’s day, etc…).

We are utterly overwhelmed by how beautiful these creations are, and how clever Jeff is at fashioning unique hand-made pieces based on our logo and magpie feathers.

DPOhdjHVoAAxI7w.jpg(Like real feathers no one of Jeff’s creations is the same)

If you would like to buy a piece of Magpie Magic

Just email Jeff and Andi and they will talk you through the process.

Or write to:

Number 8 Forest Gate Emporium,
8a Sebert Road, Forest Gate,
London E7 0NQ.

Phone:
07908406041

 

Prices start at £15 so there is something in the collection for everyone.

 

 

 

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Read about us in Inside Housing

Inside Housing

No place like home: raising children in unsuitable temporary housing

What’s it like trying to raise a baby in cramped and dangerous temporary housing? Jess McCabe investigates.  Illustration by Jonathan Gibbs

How do you teach a baby to crawl? What should be their first food? How do you toilet train a toddler? Should you let your baby sleep in your bed?

These are questions all new parents ask.

But if you’re homeless, finding the answers becomes a lot harder than a quick scan of a Mumsnet thread.

At the end of last year, the latest round of homelessness statistics garnered more media attention than usual – partly because of the number of children counted as homeless in the run-up to Christmas: 120,000.

But what is it really like trying to raise children in temporary accommodation? What is the impact on the lives and development of some of the youngest and most vulnerable residents of this country?

If anyone should know the answers it’s the mums who come to the Magpie Project, a drop-in playgroup-cum-support service, and the volunteers who run it.

Twice a week, in a community centre off Romford Road, an ungentrified high street in Forest Gate, east London, it is a haven for mums with children under five who are homeless, in temporary or emergency accommodation, or insecure housing.

Everywhere young children are happily squealing and running about. A tangle of prams forms near the door. Play-Doh is resting on a table, waiting to be played with. Mums are chatting.

At first glance this scene could be any playgroup in the country. A few details, however, jump out: a young mum is sizing up two winter coats for her two-year-old and a volunteer passes out packs of nappies.

The coats were probably donated by other local mums – once the project’s volunteers find out a specific item is needed, they put a call out to an informal network of Newham mums. The nappies are offered to counter a specific problem.

“We found that mums were taking so long between nappy changes trying to eke out the nappies,” Jane Williams

“We found that mums were taking so long between nappy changes trying to eke out the nappies, that we were seeing really, really, sore, sore, sore bums,” explains Jane Williams, who founded the Magpie Project.

Many of the mums here have no recourse to public funds, due to their immigration status.

Placed in emergency accommodation by social services under the council’s ‘Section 17’ duties towards their children, they subsist on £37 a week.

In Newham this is often given in vouchers for the supermarket Iceland – which, devastatingly for mums of small children, locally does not stock nappies or formula. Mums are left to rely on food banks and help from friends; some even use powdered milk or custard instead of formula.

Ms Williams, a governor of a nearby children’s centre, started the Magpie Project after noticing so few of the mums in temporary accommodation locally were accessing their services. They weren’t able to engage with the children’s centre because their most basic needs weren’t being met, Ms Williams says. Among these needs, she says, are “having somewhere to cook, being able to keep themselves and their children clean, feeling safe, and also just having the information or being mentally and emotionally well enough to be able to get through the door at this children’s centre”.

The Magpie Project started as a seven-week pilot with the support of the children’s centre, but was so successful it decided to carry on – although it only has funding to run until April. Staffed by volunteers (an ex-head teacher, a midwife on maternity leave, a health visitor, an artist), the project runs twice a week in a space donated by a local charity. Ms Williams is the only paid staff member, with three days a week covered by a grant from the Stratford Development Partnership. A solicitor from the London Black Women’s Project provides legal help and someone from Shelter provides housing advice.

“The model was, if these mums just have somewhere to go, have a cup of tea, get their lunch, if they can’t get here on the bus [then] we pay their bus fare, and then their children just have somewhere clean and safe and spacious to play,” says Ms Williams.

“These are extreme circumstances, and trying to carry on any kind of parenting is almost impossible.”

Around 25 mums and children turn up to every session. “We’re getting about three new mums every time we open the doors – so that’s a little hectic,” Ms Williams says. Since the project began in June 2017, only eight of those mums have been rehoused – all outside the borough.

Many are stuck for protracted periods in unsuitable housing. “Especially mums who are not housed by housing but are housed by social services, are housed into these hotels that are truly horrifying.” says Ms Williams.

Many are homeless due to domestic abuse and “they’re already traumatised, and they’re already brutalised, and then they’re in this place where it’s noisy all night, there’s aggressive begging in the corridors, it’s filthy, there are drug addicts, there are people with mental health problems, there are people just out of prison – if you’ve got a small child, it’s absolutely terrifying”.

“These are extreme circumstances, and trying to carry on any kind of parenting in that situation is almost impossible.”

The Magpie Project’s artist gives children the chance to get creative with cucumbers and paint

The Magpie Project’s artist gives children the chance to get creative with cucumbers and paint

Even basics like potty training are a challenge, leading to toddlers being kept in nappies longer than they need to be. “[In] a lot of these places it’s three fire doors between you and the nearest toilet – you don’t know whether it’s going to be accessible, you don’t know whether it’s going to be clean. It’s so difficult,” Ms Williams says.

“And nutrition – we’re finding a lot of difficulties with mums feeding babies because they don’t have access to anywhere to cook. So all of the advice of freshly cooked vegetables is very, very difficult. And mums are in the situation where they either queue to use the cooker for about four hours, with their child with them, or they get a takeaway.

“I think the main thing that we’re trying to combat is the guilt and the stress when everything inside you as a mother is telling you that you have to do all of these things for your child, but you are thwarted in being able to do them by your circumstances.”

The Magpie Project focuses on families with under fives because they are particularly vulnerable and it is a crucial age for child development. Ms Williams points out that it’s impossible to know how many are homeless at this young age because the official statistics don’t track age and can’t differentiate between a newborn and a teenager.

“Once a child reaches five, they are being looked for by schools, by regulatory bodies. Under five, people are not looking for your child. So it’s so easy for a child to get lost in the system,” she explains.

 

THE STATISTICS

The most recent homelessness statistics from September 2017 revealed that 120,000 minors were officially counted as homeless.

When the MP for Tooting questioned Theresa May about this during Prime Minister’s Questions – and specifically the 2,500 homeless children in that borough – Ms May’s response drew cries of “shame” from the opposition.

“Anybody hearing that will assume what that means is that 2,500 children will be sleeping on our streets. It does not. It does not mean that,” said Ms May. “Families with children who are accepted as homeless will be provided with accommodation.”

Whatever the prime minister was trying to imply, the real numbers may be even higher – with many families like those interviewed by Inside Housing for this story being housed under ‘Section 17’ by social services departments. This can happen if families are deemed ineligible for housing because of being ‘intentionally homeless’ or due to immigration status.

Campaigners at Shelter made a Freedom of Information Act request in 2016 and found 1,259 families (or around 4,000 people) in this position. Just under half the women who have attended the Magpie Project are housed by social services.

Diane Walls is a former primary school head and Newham councillor, and one of the Magpie Project’s volunteers.

“The years between birth and five are the most important years in a child’s development, when they learn to speak, to walk, when they start relationships with other children and other adults. When they first learn their place in the world,” she explains. “And once you cut them off from space and other children and a clean, safe environment, you are inhibiting that progress and inhibiting that development.”

But to really understand what that means, you need to talk to some of the mums. Amelia* is relaxing on a colourful playmat while her one-year-old, Rachel, investigates a toy; her two-year-old is concentrating on a nearby train set.

“We’re always happy when we come here,” she says. “At home, you think, think, think, think. Here it is better, you don’t think, you just relax. Watch them play. It is really good. It’s better than sitting at home and thinking, worried.”

“Once you cut children off from a clean, safe environment, you are inhibiting their development,” Amelia

Home for the past year – the whole of her young daughter’s life – has been one room, plagued with mould and with no room at all for the children to play. At first there was only one bed, so all three had to share. Eventually Amelia, who is from Ghana and is waiting for her documents to come through, managed to find a second bed to cram into the room for her toddler.

“When we come they give us nappies. It was very hard for me – I could hardly buy nappies. And when you come here they will give you some and you also get to talk to other mums here. At least you release some stress before you go home.”

“This one,” she says, gesturing towards her two year old, “when we come he will just jump out of the pushchair when he sees the toys because he doesn’t have all these toys at home.”

Alika’s child is the same. When she brings her two toddlers here, “he gets out of the buggy at the bus stop and he runs”, she says. The small family have been moved time and again as Alika’s violent husband has tried to track them down.

Mice were bad and bed bugs left her covered in bites, but the worst was shared accommodation where one of the neighbours smoked cannabis. “[My son has] got asthma – he was coughing constantly. That man didn’t care; I asked him constantly not to smoke. He smokes in his room but the smoke comes out.”

Katya is in a similar situation. As she bounces her 11-month-old daughter on her knee, her face is crumpled with worry. Her voice is shaking.

“It’s actually a really terrible place,” she says, describing the nearby hotel where she has been housed by social services after fleeing her violent husband. “I have pictures.”

On her phone, she scrolls through one photo after another showing mice droppings all over the bathroom, and even next to the bed which she shares with her daughter. No cot was provided for the baby to sleep in, again forcing them to share.

In the hallways going in and out, she has to brave aggressive beggars. “It’s not a safe place for babies. It’s not clean, it’s full of mice.”

One-year-old Rachel puts down a slice of banana and lifts herself up. She takes a few wobbly steps. “She took her first steps here,” says Amelia proudly.

*Names of mothers and children have been changed

 

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