Working in global health, it can sometimes be easy to forget about the health and equality challenges that lie on our own doorsteps. In June this year, the Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH) Group decided to refocus to London and host a fundraiser and collection for a local charity, Little Village in Camden. Little Village works like a food bank but for baby equipment, clothes and toys. Families who are unable to afford these themselves are referred to Little Village where they are able to choose their own items. Based near Kings Cross, Little Village Camden has responded to over 1,239 requests for help since their launch in 2017.
In early June, I went with Jaya, a fellow MNH group member, to visit Little Village Camden. Our aim was to ask about the possibility of organising a fundraiser for them. Little Village takes place in Somers Town Community Association in Camden, and every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, a dedicated team of volunteers and part-time staff set up an impressive room full of tables, play pen, and materials ready to greet children, families and caregivers.
We arrived just after 9am on a Monday when the team was setting up for the morning, and met Candice, the site director. She showed us around the centre and we were both struck by how massive and organised an operation this was. Huge cupboards filled with nappies, toys, breast pads, prams, clothes, sanitary towels, swimming trunks - you name it, it was there – carefully sorted and categorised by age and size. The volunteers were just about to have their morning brief and Candice asked if we would like to volunteer for a couple of hours, to get a sense of how Little Village works.
We were paired with an experienced volunteer who we would spend the morning with. During the briefing, we were told what was available that morning, including anything special that was available for gifting, and what might be in short supply. We learnt that Little Village doesn’t see ‘beneficiaries’ – instead, they understand that there are times in life when we can help and times in life when we need help. In a time when this kind of assistance is easily politicised, this way of thinking is empowering and humanising for both the volunteers and the parents and families visiting the centre.
At around 9.30am, families started arriving. I spent some time sorting out socks into pairs and packaging them up by size before meeting my first family. During the two hours that we spent there, Jaya and I met two families each, each with different needs and experiences.
One story that stuck with me was a young mum who had been at the centre a couple of months earlier, only to have a fire burn down her flat and belongings. She was back to collect clothes, nappies, and baby-changing materials. Jaya met a first-time mum who had recently moved out of temporary accommodation into her own flat and who appreciated talking about feeding, changing and sleeping her baby as much as receiving some much-needed items. Another family I saw collected nappies, changing mats and sleep suits for their newborn baby son, and were happy to be able to take some toys for their other older children too. Every mum that comes into the centre is gifted some toiletries, just for her.
We left after a couple of hours to get back to the office, while the session was still in full flow. As we walked back to LSHTM, we reflected on how amazing and effective Little Village is – but also how tragic that it is so needed. In London, 43% of children currently live in poverty. Over 2.7 million children in the UK are growing up destitute. Of the families, caregivers and children that have been helped by Little Village Camden this year, 51% are either homeless or in temporary accommodation, nearly a third have had no recourse to public funds, 23% are refugees or asylum seekers, 61% are families with two parents, and over a fifth have at least one parent in work. In one of the richest cities in the world, we must question what leads us to need organisations like Little Village (while being very grateful that they exist).
Both Jaya and I were inspired by our experience at Little Village and in late June, the MNH Group organised a bake sale and collection at LSHTM to raise money and donations. Thanks to many generous donations from LSHTM staff, students and friends, we were able to raise an amazing £550 for Little Village Camden. We were also able to donate over ten bags of new and passed down items, many of which have already been gifted out to families. Thanks to everyone who contributed (in terms of donations, cash and cake!).
- Victoria Ponce Hardy
If you would like to get involved or learn more about Little Village, visit: https://littlevillagehq.org/.