We were happy to be part of a Newsnight investigation aired this week on the health hazards of substandard accommodation for many children in the UK.
We spoke alongside others such as the Shared Health Foundation, Professor Monika Lakhanpaul, and a brave Magpie Mum in home office accommodation to bring to light this often hidden problem.
124,000 children are at risk. Shocking statistics of how we, as a rich developed country, are jeopardising the health of our children by failing to provide adequate housing in the private, public, home office and social services sectors.
On seeing this film Sir Peter Bottomley MP said
‘If someone can give transcript of this programme to the prime-ministers office tomorrow we can start working on this together’.
He also stated that
‘Governnment departments often need nudging by MPs and by Media and by Voluntary organistions.
I think that the result of this programme will be that government departments will work together both local and nationally and if in a year’s time we are down 20,000 rather than 120,000 we will have made significant progress’
Who’s up for some ‘nudging’? Talk to your friends about this, find homeless and migrant organisations in your local area to support, and write to your MP so that these ‘hidden homeless’ rise up the agenda.
This collection of illustrated stories captures intergenerational narratives and amplifies the voices of children. From it, Bethany Williams, London-based sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist, has created her first large scale public art work.
The works are a continuation of Williams’ ongoing project with two East London grassroots organisations: The Magpie Project, a charity that supports families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; and London College of Fashion’s Making for Change, a fashion training and manufacturing programme operating from two fully equipped sites, established in 2014 at HMP Downview with a sister site based at Poplar Works.
Titled ‘All Our Stories’, the illustrations have been generated through an ongoing series of collaborative storytelling workshops with the children and mothers from the Magie Project and Making for Change communities. For the visuals, Williams teamed up with illustrator and artist Melissa Kitty Jarram to transform these stories into a series of illustrations that in turn have been transposed into flags.
Each storytelling workshop culminated in a variety of creative outcomes, as each of the different communities interpreted the brief in their own way. The stories shared below recollect childhood memories in many forms; folklore tales shared from generation to generation, bedtime chronicles and fairytales whilst others contain childhood stories and nostalgic recollections of real life memories. Recognising community childhood stories and narratives – whether they have a strong written tradition or not is important in terms of assigning value and sharing power.
Bethany Williams is the second artist to take on this textile commission for Coal Drops Yard. A key and unusual feature of this project is that the decommissioning process is at the forefront of the considerations. This is only the first life of this fabric: once the installation comes down the material will be turned into two collections, one available to buy from Kiosk N1C in Coal Drops Yard and one in collaboration with one of Williams’ key retailers.
Proceeds from the sales will then be donated back to the Magpie Project and Making for Change.
The flags themselves are created from an organic Hemp Slub and which is 100% recyclable. The material choice references the age-old practice of flag-making, considers the future of Hemp’s role in the textile industry, and reflects Coal Drops Yard as a destination for fashion.
ALL OUR STORIES
Dino, a Magpie Project community story
A knight finds an egg and keeps the egg. The egg hatches and becomes a dinosaur. The knight has to save a princess who lives in a tower. The knight rides the dinosaur everywhere and it climbs a tree. He finds the princess but doesn’t know how to get up the tower. But, the dinosaur can burp ladders! And he can fly if he farts. To find the princess he has to burp and fart. Each fart and burp (and picking of his nose!) helps him to save the princess. The knight and the dinosaur managed to save the princess, who liked farting, burping and picking her nose too. So they all farted and burped and picked their noses together!
Chaos, a Magpie Project community story
A wealthy merchant moved into a new province and built a big palace with a beautiful door, heavily adorned with gems and stones. The King’s guards found the lavish door and told the King about it. At night, all the villagers went to see the door glistening in the dark. The King grew jealous and, afraid that the Queen might think the merchant’s door was better, he too put up a beautiful, bejeweled door. But no one came to see it. The King sent the guards to steal the merchant’s door. The guards stole the door with all its gems. And so the merchant made a new door better than the first one.
This happened a few more times. Then the King summoned the merchant. The King said “I am the King of this region and it is a disgrace to me that your door is more beautiful than mine”. The merchant said “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Where I come from we had riches but then lost them. We worked hard and rebuilt our homes. I decorate my door so that people who are too embarrassed to ask for help can just take the gems.” The King felt ashamed and decided to put out a bag of gems for people to take them whenever they needed.
The moral of this story is that when you give, you don’t have to tell the person that you have helped them.
The Sun and Wind story, Bethany William’s childhood story
Once the Wind and the Sun came to have a quarrel. Both of them claimed to be stronger. At last they agreed to have a trial of strength. “Here comes a traveller. Let us see who can strip him of his clock,” said the Sun. The Wind agreed and chose to have the first turn. He blew in the hardest possible way. As a result, the traveller wrapped his cloak even more tightly around him. Then it was the turn of the brightly shining Sun. At first he shone very gently. So, the traveller loosened his cloak from his neck. The Sun went on shining brighter and brighter. The traveller felt hot. Before long he took off his cloak and put it in his bag. The Wind had to accept his defeat.
The moral of this story is that gentleness and kind persuasion win, where force and bluster fail.
A flag with two tales – Monkey, a Magpie Project community story There was a cap seller in the village. One day he had sold lots of caps and was tired, so he sat under a tree. The tree was full of lots of monkeys who saw the seller sleeping. One monkey came down to take a cap from the seller’s bag and climbed back up the tree. The seller woke up and was shocked to see the bag was empty. “Hey monkey, give me my cap back!” Then he thought of an idea to get them back. He took off his own cap and threw it up. The monkey copied. The seller threw it on the ground. The monkey copied. The seller picked all the caps and put them in his bag!
Tiger, a Magpie Project community story There once was a girl who, as she sat on the hillside watching the village cows, was bored. To amuse herself she took a great breath and sang out, “Tiger! Tiger! The Tiger is chasing the cow!” The villagers came running to help the girl drive the tiger away. But when they arrived, they found no tiger. The girl laughed at the sight of their angry faces. “Don’t cry ‘Tiger’, girl,” said the villagers, “when there’s no tiger!” They went grumbling back to the village. Later, the girl sang out again, “Tiger! Tiger! The Tiger is chasing the cows!” To her naughty delight, she watched the villagers run to help her drive the Tiger away. When the villagers saw no tiger they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘Tiger’ when there is NO tiger!” But the girl just grinned and watched them go grumbling back to the village.
Later, she saw a REAL tiger prowling about the cows. Alarmed, she leapt to her feet and sang out as loudly as he could, “Tiger! Tiger!” But the villagers thought she was trying to fool them again, and so they didn’t come. At sunset, everyone wondered why the girl hadn’t returned to the village with their cows. They went up the field to find the girl. They found her weeping. “There really was a Tiger here! The cows have scattered! I cried out, “Tiger!” Why didn’t you come?” An old woman tried to comfort the girl as they walked back to the village. “Nobody believes a liar… even when she is telling the truth.
Saturday 12th of June at 12pm sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist, Bethany Williams, launched her latest collection, All Our Stories.
“She still wears stories passed down to her by her mother. Words that no longer fit the same way because life has stretched and changed its shape, but the moral of the story remains. Like the smile on her face. Her joy is new, even though the ending is not. She has not forgotten the promise she made, never to waste these old, tattered tales but to tell them to her children – again and again. To get to the end and watch them smile. They are their stories now. They are All Our Stories.” – Eno Mfon, Spoken Word Poet
All Our Stories is inspired by Bethany’s continued work with East London grassroots organisation, The Magpie Project, a charity that supports women and children under five who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The Magpie project works to make sure that a spell in insecure or temporary accommodation does not result in permanent damage to the life chances of the children who experience it.
Artist Melissa Kitty Jarram – inspired by the folklore passed from generation to generation and childhood stories that continue to inform us in our adult lives – ran a storytelling workshops with the Magpie families and illustrated the magical narratives they shared. She then used waste book covers in her illustrations to tell a new story.
The collection focuses on five main storylines shared by the families of the Magpie Project, “AOS”, “Blessing”, “Dinosaurs” and “The Girl Who Cried Tiger”, as well as Bethany’s own, “The Sun and The Wind” childhood story.
“What we noticed through the story-telling workshops, was that the moral in each story always came back to kindness, care, and respect for one another and how these traits, whilst important in childhood, have just as much meaning in adult life.” Bethany Williams
Working closely with Jane Williams, the founder of the Magpie Project, Bethany Williams will continue the theme of the collection in a commitment to running creative workshops with the Magpie Projectcommunity that will capture, share and amplify their myriad stories. It is the collective’s belief that disseminating these stories empowers and encourages community togetherness and voice at many levels.
The silhouettes of the collection are inspired by the V&A Museum of Childhood garment archive. This collection sees Bethany’s first detailed exploration into tailoring with a suit inspired by a historical children’s skeleton suit from the 1800’s. The skeleton suit was the first children’s garment designed for play. The new shapes stand alongside our existing forms representing our continued development. The collection also features two corsets created with Welsh designer Rosie Evans using offcuts from the collection production. In these corsets, Rosie has replaced traditional boning with a material made out of fruit packaging waste.
At a time when the V&A Museum of Childhood has fully decanted for refurbishment, All Our Stories has filled the empty space with new stories and community faces for our campaign imagery.
As with all her work, the collection is created via Bethany’s social manufacturing partners who are built into the framework of social enterprise. Bethany continues to work with community driven, UK based social manufacturing partner, Making for Change Poplar Works. For the first time, Williams is using donations of Merino Wool deadstock from Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna, which has been printed with eco-friendly inks via Orto Print in Peckham.
Through the collaboration with Mending For Good, knitwear has been a key area of development for this collection where Williams proudly introduces a new social manufacturing partnership called Manusa. Manusa is, a social cooperative that involves people from various backgrounds, specializing in hand-techniques including delicate crochet, embroidery and hand-knitting. Designed in collaboration with Alice Morell Evans, the knitwear uses Sesia Wool industry waste sample swatches, crocheted together with Seisia organic bio wool. Each year, the sample swatches created each season become surplus at the end of each cycle of production. To utilise this waste, Bethany and Founder of Mending For Good, Barbara Guarducci, developed a sorting technique with Sesia for their team to separate the swatches.
Barbara Guarducci said “Mending for Good was born to provide design-driven technical solutions for the excess stock and left-overs of the fashion industry. Everyday tons of so far “considered” waste are still produced, that is why we love to collaborate with visionary designers such as Bethany Williams that sees waste as the raw material from which a beautiful story can start.”
The book cover waste, provided by Hachette, is used for Bethany’s iconic Book Bags, and integrated into the collection garments through their woven textile collaboration with San Patrignano, an education and rehabilitation programme that teaches traditional Italian craft and a sense of community.
Six looks from All Our Stories make up Bethany Williams’ submission for the 2021 International Woolmark Prize finals.
20% of the profits from this collection will be donated to The Magpie Project via The Bethany Williams Benevolent Fund, a fund set up by The Magpie Project and Bethany Williams in 2020.
Read what British Vogue has to say about the latest Bethany Williams Collection here
We were a bit taken aback and incredibly honoured to be asked to give evidence to the the House of Lords committee on Covid Recovery on Tuesday April 20th 2021.
We asked, as we always do, whether we could bring a mum who experienced the crisis first hand to speak, and on this occassion it was unfortunately a no, so instead we sent out a quick survey to find out what our mums’ main concerns were, and what they wanted policy makers to know. Some 67 people answered, and we fed in the results to our oral evidence to the committee. Read our survey results here. Mums were concerned about their own mental health, about the physical and emotional development of their children, and about poor housing conditions and poverty. Their asks were:
An end to the hostile environment which is keeping their children in poverty,
The right to work,
Affordable childcare so that single parents can work,
Better provision of children’s centres and early years.
We also wanted to recognise and laud the efforts that Newham Council and Public Health England made during the crisis in Newham under the leadership of Mayor Fiaz. So we asked for their input too. Read about how Newham worked with the third sector and community and faith groups to make sure nobody was left behind in the crisis.
The COVID crisis made visible a pre-existing, chronic crisis of inequality and poverty – and the Covid response improved the lives of people suffering before COVID (the homeless, those in unsuitable accommodation, those with NRPF) as well as those who were newly in need.
The spread of COVID 19, government instruction to stay at home and sudden economic crisis exposed and exacerbated deep inequalities in Newham. The borough was already tackling public health crises including related to poor air quality, the housing crisis and poverty. Newham is the most ethnically diverse borough in the UK, with 73% of residents from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. It quickly became clear that the pandemic was disproportionately affecting Black and minority ethnic communities and so was experienced acutely in Newham. There were a number of complex interrelated issues affecting this, borne of long standing health inequalities and structural racism.
ONS data also showed a stark correlation between COVID 19 mortality rates and the prevalence of overcrowded housing. Between 1 March and 17 April 2020, Newham had the highest death rate (114.3 deaths per 100,000) and the biggest overcrowding problem (25.2% of homes are overcrowded). You can see in this photographic essay by Laura Dodsworth the conditions that our mothers had to endure during lockdown. One Room Lockdown. These were mothers who were not under Newham’s direct care and therefore did not benefit from the Mayor’s decision to move all of those in shared accommodation in to self contained homes in order to facilitate the possibility of self-isolating, or social distancing. We were so worried about the plight of those unable to keep safe in Migrant Help accommodation that the ITV did a story on it, and the Mayor of Newham wrote to the housing secretary to express concern.
The response of Newham was exemplary in terms of communication, decisiveness and trusting and enabling community groups, faith organisations and third sector to act in the interests of our residents. Partnership working has been central to supporting residents in Newham, with the council, voluntary, faith and community sector all mobilising together at rapid speed. This included:
The Newham Food Alliance – A network of voluntary, community and faith sector organisations coordinated by the council to distribute food. In 2020, this network and HelpNewham distributed 264,000 food parcels to Newham residents, and council vehicles moved over 920 tonnes of Felix fare-share surplus food, with these figures rising daily.
The Newham Social Welfare Alliance has worked with community organisations to provide training sessions on Housing and Homelessness, Domestic Violence to Children and Young People’s Mental Wellbeing. Since November, 753 people from 81 organisations have attended sessions. Establishing a COVID-19 Health Champions network of 400+ residents who share information in the community. The network was recognized as best practice by the government and the Ministry of Communities and Local Government now funds similar work at other Councils.
Pioneering a rapid local testing model in the borough, which has fundamentally changed access to testing particularly for the most vulnerable communities.
Working with the local NHS to establish vaccine sites beyond health care settings, including pop up vaccine sites in churches, temples, mosques and community centres.
Offering free accommodation for living in overcrowded housing, the first local authority in the country to do so. This followed research by the council on why some residents feel unable to self-isolate, which found that 71% of those surveyed listed fear of losing their job as a factor that gets in the way of being able to self-isolate. A further 60% said they were preventing from self-isolating by the need to earn money.
Newham rapidly mobilised an emergency accommodation and assessment centre and accommodation for all rough sleepers, regardless of their immigration status or local connection (Four Hotels and 40 Houses of Multiple Occupancy.) Newham has had the largest decrease in rough sleepers this year nationally, with rough sleepers falling by 91%. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Newham had accommodated 124 Rough Sleepers, with approximately 70 people still on the streets. Newham currently has 212 people accommodated and 6 people on the streets. Throughout the pandemic 198 people have been supported to move on out of this temporary accommodation and into longer-term settled accommodation.
3.The response to COVID proved that – with political will and central funding – crises can be addressed. It proved that other long-standing chronic crises – child poverty, homelessness, food poverty, digital poverty, hygiene poverty, loneliness, NRPF – could benefit from being treated as a public health crisis of the same urgency.
The pandemic has dissolved many of the barriers between the council, health partners, voluntary, faith and community organisations. This unprecedented mobilisation to support residents demonstrates what is possible when local authorities and community organisations are giving the appropriate funding and powers. In March 2020 the Chancellor promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to fund councils through the pandemic, but as of March, the impact of the pandemic on Newham council was £82m, and support from government only estimated at £68m. Council across the country have been left short.
The pandemic has also shown the power of local authorities of convenors of local communities during crises. Councils like Newham are uniquely placed to play this role. During COVID 19, we have seen the value of a more balanced central-local relationship in tackling this challenge. The vaccine programme shows each level playing to its strengths: with central government using its purchasing power and other levers to accelerate vaccine development and acquisition, and the local NHS, council and community partners working to get it into people’s arms. The Test and Trace Programme has in contrast been highly centralised.
Newham has launched its 50 Steps to a Healthier Newham Health and Well-Being Strategy 2020-23, that sets out how Newham will respond to the significant pre-existing and new health challenges created by the pandemic. The strategy details how the borough will work with partners to do all possible to maximize the health of the population over the next three years, placing a key focus on supporting people around the determinants of their health.
This is underpinned by the Council’s ‘Towards a Better Newham’ COVID-19 Recovery Strategy, all informed by the council’s overarching strategic goal to tackle inequality, racism and disproportionality. The strategy is based on eight pillars, including a commitment to measuring the council’s success in future on the health, happiness and wellbeing of residents.
Newham is showing what is possible with imaginative policies, partnership working and political will. Going forward, we need a national approach that focuses on prevention and tackling structural inequality at its roots.
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:
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:
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?
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.
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’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.
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:
knit a boob or a baby or two, make sure it is safe and easily washed.
send it to The Magpie Project, knitting appeal. c/o Forest Lane Lodge, Forest Lane Park, Magpie Close E7 9DE
Or get in touch with Jules to discuss what you will be knitting.