4 million children across the UK are living in poverty

Sophia Parker explains how Little Village is helping to support thousands of those families

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During the first lockdown, I had an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. While trying to work and care for my two-year old son was challenging, I knew that compared to a lot of families across the UK, I had nothing to complain about. Stories of families living well beneath the breadline were troubling, and I found not knowing how to help difficult.

But then I saw a post on Instagram from Little Village - a London-based charity that operates like a food bank, but for clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children up to the age of five. For context, some of the parents that Little Village helps have nowhere safe for their newborn babies to sleep, no slings or prams to carry them in, or even nappies. In some very sad cases, mums have had to make a bed for their baby with towels on the floor. I can't even imagine the anxiety that would cause a new parent.

I couldn't believe this was happening in one of the most affluent cities in the world. I wanted to get involved and help.

So, in August, I started volunteering for Little Village by sorting through donations while my husband ran some broken items to the tip. I’ve also just finished my safeguarding training so I can start calling families to organise orders and request the items they need. This new role has taken me well out of my comfort zone but it feels good to do something tangible to help other families in my community.

It’s also helped me feel more useful - which is incredibly good for my mental health during the uncertainty of this never-ending pandemic, and something that volunteering is proven to help with. When life returns to normal, I also look forward to meeting other volunteers in person and creating a tighter network with the Little Village team.

So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to the woman who started it all, Sophia Parker, the incredibly inspiring CEO and founder of Little Village and mum of three.

We chatted earlier this month about the work that Little Village does and the problems that families across London, and the UK, are facing right now.

The Interview: Sophia Parker, CEO of Little Village

First of all, can you tell me a little bit about why you started Little Village and when?

I started Little Village back in 2016. I’d just had my third (final!) child and wanted to find a way of passing on my pre-loved, but still good quality, baby clothing and kit to other local families who were struggling. When I discovered there was no way of doing this, I decided to start it. Before I knew it, my living room was jammed with donations, and Little Village had kind of launched itself, powered by an amazing group of parents who wanted to make it happen! Nearly 5 years on, we’ve supported over 8000 families across London.

Little Village has done some amazing work, especially over lockdown, when parents have needed it more than ever. What have been the major highs and lows of 2020?

I won’t lie, 2020 has been a very tough year. We’re on track to see double the number of kids in 2020 that we saw in 2019. But at the same time, as demand has gone up, the lockdown severely limited the number of volunteers and staff we could have in our hubs, and took away all the community fundraising income that we’d depended before the pandemic on to keep our doors open. But despite these challenges, there have been some amazing highs. Seeing our incredible team of staff and volunteers redesign our operations in two weeks flat in March, so we could continue to support families, moved me beyond words; so too did the community response to our emergency crowdfunder to support our work.

You’ve expressed a lot of frustration during the pandemic over the way the government has forgotten children living in poverty – such as the retraction of free school meals during the holidays. What are your biggest concerns as we go into another lockdown and how bad is the situation for many families?

Before the pandemic, 42% of kids in the capital were growing up poor. The families we support were already living on the edge, trapped by a perfect storm of low wages, insecure work, bad housing, and high living costs. The pandemic has made a bad situation much, much worse. There are babies without beds to sleep in, kids with shoes two sizes too small, parents struggling to afford nappies. I worry that these experiences are not only diminishing children’s lives now, but will also affect their futures too. Poor children are at greater risk of low grades, unemployment and poor health in later life.

This situation is not ok for the children we support; and it is not ok for the society in which we live. No one benefits.

Many people often feel very saddened by the situation many families are facing but don’t know how to help. What would you suggest we do right now to help? Both locally and nationally.

Yes, it can feel such a huge overwhelming problem that it’s hard to know where to start. I would say – start by starting. Sign up to volunteer at a local charity in your own community. Donate money (you can do that for us here!) and help these organisations to keep going. Talk to your friends about the issues and find ways of fundraising or volunteering together. Share information on social media. We need to raise awareness that child poverty exists – so many people don’t realise what a big issue it is right here in our city. And we need to build pressure for positive change – and that will take more of us speaking up to say the situation needs to change.

I signed up to volunteer for Little Village during lockdown as I needed to do something tangible aside from just donating money. I’ve found doing this has really helped me – from feeling more connected to my community, to taking me out of my own head when I’ve felt worried or isolated. How important do you think volunteering is? Especially for freelance parents…

Thank you so much Cat, it’s great to have you as part of the Little Village community. We believe that there are times in our lives when we need help, and times in life when we can offer help. And it’s so clear from our work as well as wider research evidence that helping others is an incredibly powerful way of looking after your own mental health. We all need to feel useful, and to feel connected. At Little Village we do everything we can to offer flexible opportunities across the week, and in daytimes and evenings, to make it as easy as possible for families to help each other. You can read more, and sign up here.

You’re just about to launch your Christmas campaign for Little Village. Tell me about that…

We’re asking for people’s help to enable us to give 1,000 children the perfect gift this year. Lots of charities (including us in previous years) collect presents to gift on to kids who might not otherwise have anything under the tree. But we think the people who know most about what kids really want for Christmas are their parents, not us. So this year you can head over to our Christmas shop to help us buy lots of vouchers that we will get out to the families who need them most, via our network of midwives, health visitors and other professionals. We’ll package these up beautifully, and include messages and cards for families, and parents can redeem the vouchers at Argos.

What else is Little Village working on right now? What are you aims for 2021?

Our hope is that in 2021 we can reopen our hubs across London, so we can welcome families back into our regular drop-in sessions. Until then, we will continue working to take in your pre-loved donations, and get them safely out to families need out to them, thanks to our amazing team of volunteers and staff. Our dream remains the same: that every child in the capital has the essential items they need to thrive. We’re here to make it as easy as possible for families to help one another when times are tough: please come and join the Little Village community to show your solidarity with other parents.

To find out how you can get involved, head to Little Village’s website or drop me a comment below.

Don’t forget that from today and throughout November, all donations to my Kofi page will be given to Little Village. As you can imagine, help is very much needed right now. Thank you to everyone that has donated so far.

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