The question I get asked the most about First Days is ‘is there really a need?’. In the town, Wokingham, where First Days was established it is presumed that there really isn’t a need at all for practical support for families. Surely, in a town that has been heralded as one of the best places in the UK to raise a family, there can’t be people who struggle to make ends meet? Struggling to provide vital items for their children like high chairs and winter coats. The need hides in plain sight. It hides on the roads that people don’t drive down. It hides itself from the £3 per drink coffee shops. These families can’t get to the brand new, slightly out of town, play park. The need is there though – you do not need to scratch the surface too hard to find it. At First Days we have been overwhelmed with demand for things for families. I am passionate about not only providing clothes and equipment but also toys. ALL children should have access to safe and good quality toys – early years development is all about learning through play, isn’t it?
So, who needs our help?
Meet Vicky, a 26 year old mother of two from Wokingham. She was initially referred to First Days when her daughter was 18 months old and she was pregnant with her second child. Her little girl, who I had the pleasure of meeting, desperately needed some Winter clothes. Vicky just couldn’t make ends meet. The relationship with her partner, the children’s Dad, had broken down – Vicky told me that the stress of not having enough money and not being able to manage money properly was a contributing factor to the breakdown of the relationship. She was hopeful that they could sort things out and live as a family again at some point, especially with the new baby on the way. We gave Vicky some Winter clothes for her daughter, but whilst dropping them off I quickly realised that there was a lot more we could do to help. She would need a double buggy. She would need a bouncy chair and play mat so that the baby could be entertained whilst she tended to the needs of her toddler. Her toddler would need some age appropriate toys. The baby would need things too. I told her we could help with all of that and she cried with relief. She was getting support from elsewhere – her local Children’s Centre were helping, and she had – in an emergency when her partner first left the family home – been helped by the local Foodbank too. Vicky is not alone in her plight – we come across families like hers time and time again who just need a little bit of help so that they aren’t struggle to put food on the table and clothe their children.
Then you can meet Julia and her family. Julia and her husband live just outside Wokingham in one of the surrounding areas with their two small children. Julia’s husband has recently been made redundant – whilst he managed to get another job it wasn’t as well paid. Julia also works. They have help from family and also pay for some childcare. When one of the older children jumped into the babies cot (something that my daughter does to her little brothers cot ALL the time!) and the base snapped away from the rest of the cot they didn’t know what to do. Their household budget was very, very tight. They had accounted for everything but not this unexpected extra expense. They got in touch with First Days after reading about us in the paper. We gave them a new cot – when I asked them what they would have done without our help they said it was likely they would have to get a loan, from a doorstep or payday lender. We all know how those stories end.
There are so many other people too. Mothers and babies who leave refuges with nothing. Parents who have had to be rehoused because their home is so damp that their children are ill.
So is there really a need? You bet there is. There is a need in every town in the UK – child poverty is real and so often hidden. We would love to help communities meet that need.
At First Days we desperately need volunteers to help sort, clean and pack things for families in need. If you’re local and can spare some time – please get in touch. If not then please follow our story and the stories of the families we help on facebook and twitter.
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.