A new nest for magpie minis

Even before lockdown we were fast outgrowing Forest Lane Lodge.

We do not have sole use of the building, which means that we were setting up and breaking down the equivalent of a full nursery provision each time we opened.

That, alongside not having enough storage for our donations or a private area for our minis to play safely means that things were stretched.

Our irreplaceable professional partners who descend on our building to meet mums where they feel safe and supported often found themselves squatting on the floor, working on a chair in the playroom, taking case notes on the roundabout – making do.

Then lockdown happened…..

Our staff numbers doubled, the number of mums and minis we are supporting at any given time also doubled and a half (Grew by 150%?)

All these factors are adding up to the inevitable and unsettling conclusion that – to quote the classic film – we are going to need a bigger boat.

The good news

There is a great building very close by which is vacant. It is a five minute walk from the Lodge so even if a professional, a volunteer or a vulnerable mum comes to the old building it won’t be far to get to the new one. Other massive positives are:

  • There will be SO much more space,
  • We will have sole use of the building. We will have a garden all to ourselves to grow flowers, veg and children,
  • Our minis will have a private, safe space (indoor and out) to play,
  • We will have capacity inside to invite all of our beloved professional partners such as LBWP, Health Visitors, Family Support workers, Shelter advisers, Beauticians, Reiki practitioners, dance artists, artists, theatre practitioners to come, spread out and do their thing.

We are also hoping that the space will allow for a:

  • Laundrette
  • Cafe/cooking collective
  • Community garden
  • Digital hub
  • Advice space, but most important of all
  • Chatting, play and chaos and creating minis’ memories and mums’ belonging.

We could also imagine the wider community using the space for:

  • Hot desking,
  • Birthday parties,
  • Evening classes, etc.

The not so good news

It’s a building that has been squatted in. It is in a terrible state and it is not 100% clear what state it will be in if we get possession.

To make the building what we dream it could be for our families we would need:

  • Corporate or community groups to volunteer to clear the building
  • Corporate or community groups to volunteer to clean and paint
  • Specialist builders/developers to help with repairs
  • Gardeners/landscape artists to help create a beautiful outdoor space
  • Interior designers to help us imagine an amazing and magical place where mums and minis are centered
  • Furniture/office suppliers to help us kit the place out
  • Kitchen suppliers to help us create a beautiful collective cooking space, or
  • The money to pay for any of the above that we cannot beg or borrow in-kind.

So here’s where we need your help

We know we ask a lot of you, our beautiful, bountiful community. And here we are asking again, after a year where we have all given more than we ever thought possible. But – you know – it’s just so important to show up for our most vulnerable children and mothers. The brilliant thing is that with a little time and generosity we can, together, make something really beautiful and meaningful happen.

What can you pledge?

We feel as though we need to get an idea of whether our dreams are possible. We know – from the amazing support we have had in the past year – that there are many, many of you who help us, answer our call-outs, come to our aid. But before we take this on, it would be great to have the reassurance that a few of you may be on board to help again.

If you are interested in helping us give our mums and minis a safe, beautiful space to heal, learn and thrive please fill in the pledge form below.

If – hopefully when – we sign a lease, we will get back to you and see if you are still up for it. Then we will get it done and have the biggest thank you party Newham has ever seen!

Thank you so much, as always, for being there for our families. We will be in touch, hopefully with good news and a call to action as soon as we can.

Thank you Ruth

Our beloved social work student closed the doors on her placement today. She came to us in the middle of the Covid chaos – but despite this, she has approached every person, every task, every opportunity with love, curiosity and a wonderful instinct for how to keep people safe, how to make sure people feel comfortable and a really wicked sense of humour.

This is what she told us about her placement:

I have been immensely honoured to have had the opportunity to work with The Magpie Project.

Thank you for embracing and enriching me with the experience of impacting society, one family at a time! 

My soul is richer with satisfaction for having been a part of the life-changing, opportunity-making, dignity-restoring, empowerment machine that is THE MAGPIE PROJECT! 

You have all readily shared your knowledge with me, and I hold all I have learned dear to use now and ​in the future. Thank you for contributing towards my professional development. In many ways, I have developed as a person too, such as my capacity to empathise. 

I am ever so glad to have started my practice journey with the Project as it enabled me to see need without any barriers and certainly to think of ways in which this need could be met.  I am sure this training has enhanced my ability to think creatively regarding alternatives to service provision. 

I have seen the resilience of the human spirit; that people may be bruised by their ordeals, yet believe that tomorrow will get better. 

Ruth, Social Work Student

I’m convinced that the project plays a vital role in creating this belief; that you shine a beacon for all the mothers in your care, to trust in the possibility of positive change! That you empower these mothers to utilise their strengths; give them a voice! 

Thank you for enabling me to be a participant in this great experience.

Call out for babies and boobs

We are excited to be working alongside a committee of Newham, BME, Migrant or marginalised mums, Alternatives and the NCT to co-create a suite of support services around childbirth and parenthood.

In our initial workshops, our mums told us they felt let-down by a lack of early, as-and-when needed help. It meant they were not able to establish breastfeeding.

For many mums, feeling you’ve not had the support you need to breastfeed can trigger difficult emotions which are hard to come to terms with. For some of our mums who are living below the breadline, the expense of formula is potentially financially devastating.

So we are committed to giving as much support to breastfeeding as possible.

This is where you guys come in. We usually demonstrate with whatever is to hand – a toy octupus, miming and gesticulating at our own, or mums’ boobs – which you will probably agree is not the best thing!

So we were thinking it would be nice to have some woolly boobs and babies !

Can you knit or crochet us a boob – or a baby to help with our classes?

There are many great patterns online. We would love all sizes and skin tones. Please feel free to:

  1. knit a boob or a baby or two, make sure it is safe and easily washed.
  2. send it to
    The Magpie Project, knitting appeal.
    c/o Forest Lane Lodge,
    Forest Lane Park,
    Magpie Close
    E7 9DE
  3. Or get in touch with Jules to discuss what you will be knitting.
  4. If you don’t knit, buy us a doll – these are the best.
  5. If you want to support our work, donate money and we promise we will put it straight to work helping mums and minis.

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.



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




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 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


© 2017 Inside Housing
All rights reserved

Get to TESCO and VOTE Magpie!

The Magpie Project is bidding to bag a massive cash boost from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative. Tesco teamed up with Groundwork to launch its community funding scheme, which sees grants of up to £4,000, up to £2,000 and £1,000 raised from carrier bag sales in Tesco stores awarded to local community projects.

The Magpie Project is one of three groups in the Newham region to be shortlisted to receive the cash award.


BUT HERE IS WHERE YOU COME IN! Shoppers are being invited to head along to Tesco stores to vote for who they think should take away the top grant.

Alec Brown, Head of Community at Tesco, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to open the voting for January and February. There are some fantastic projects on the shortlists and we can’t wait to see these come to life in hundreds of communities.”

For our part, here at Magpie we are really excited about being chosen to compete for funding. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to gain much needed money that will go straight to supporting East London’s most vulnerable mums and children.

Voting is open in all Tesco stores throughout January and February. Vote using a token given to you at the check-out in store each time you shop.


To check the location of any of the above stores, please go to the tesco website here:



Please share with all your friends and family, let’s win the £4,000 for our wonderful Magpie Mums and Minis.

Thank you!!







Art for good

Thank you to Jan Porter for using her wonderful art show to support the Magpie Project’s mums and children. She, Ardyn Griffiths, and Jack Chauncy took a collection at the show as well as allowing a percentage of sales to go to us.
They raised a staggering £150.
That supports 20 families to come to the project, access lunches, play and help, and take home nappies for the week.
An incredible achievement and a generous gesture.

Visit John Lewis to raise funds for mums and babies in need in Newham

John Lewis Westfield have agreed to include the Magpie Project as one of their Community Matters charities for the period of December 2017 and January 2018.

From this week (starting 4th December). You will be able to go


in to the Westfield Stratford store and vote for our charity to gain a share of £3000.

The tokens and the voting booths are in three parts of the store:

  • Click and Collect.
  • Customer Services area
  • The Cafe.

Please, please, please take the trip to John Lewis every time you are in Westfield and drop a token (or two!!) in the  box for us.

  • £3 gets a family to the project to access help.
  • £7 keeps a baby’s bum clean and comfortable for a week with nappies and wipes, and
  • £120 could buy us a laptop that could keep track of our mums and children to make sure that they are referred to the right places, and that they are safe and engaging with the help they need.

So imagine what we could do with £3,000!

Go on, VOTE for us. It is one vote that is absolutely guaranteed to make a massive difference.

I want to do more.

I want to know what difference the money will make.





What we do works


Clara was made homeless Thursday last week.

She was evicted from her home in a neighbouring borough and housed on a temporary basis into a Newham. Clara is an incredibly educated woman – with professional qualifications that most of us can only dream of – a true expert in her chosen field of work.

Nevertheless due to circumstances beyond her control, and none of her own fault she found herself coming to us on Monday having been placed in a single room in Newham with her two children.

When Clara got to us, we sat her down, shared a cup of tea with her, and talked through how we could help. It turned out that most of her life is well under control, she is on maternity leave from a great job – all she really needed was a home.

She said ‘who can I speak to?’

When Clara asked who she should speak to, we were able to point across the room, past the play-do and the ball pit, to Farah, our wonderful housing advisor from Shelter who was, at the time, deep in discussion on the merits and demerits of Lidl nappies at the time!

She and Clara sat down. It was clear that Farah needed to take on her case.

Skip forward three days. And Clara is on her way to moving in to a new home.

Clara has been rehoused.

A week! Now that is how ‘temporary’ we would love all ‘temporary’ acccommodation to be!

Clara and her children are now moving in to a house in a nearby borough, still close enough to the project to visit if she needs any more help.

Don’t get us wrong it does not always happen like this. In fact this is the second time it has happened so fast since we started in June. The vast majority of our cases involve untangling multiple problems around immigration, housing, family etc. But how wonderful when all the stars align and it does!!! When all it takes is finding the right place to go and the right people to talk to.

Working together to get results

So who was involved in getting this result to Clara?

Thank you to the referrer who took quick action to signpost mum to us.

Thank you to mum who made the massively brave step to walk through the door.

Thank you to our team of incredibly dedicated volunteers who welcomed her, gave her tea, and chatted until she felt comfortable enough to share her story, shared lunch with her

Thank you to Shelter who have been insanely supportive even when the project was just an idea and now send the fabulous Farah to us each week.

Thank you to Aston-Mansfield who allow us to operate in their premises.

And thank you to every Newham resident, business and family that support us.

Working together, joining the dots, communicating with other voluntary and statutory organisations.

This sort of multi agency, community focused working (or people coming together to care as it used to be called) is how things get done!

Let”s spread the word, and keep on keeping on!

Why we do what we do

Get involved