“It’s not fair” she wailed, lips pouting and chin quivering, “I want to play houses”.
With four toddlers already squeezed into the playhouse and two more trying to crawl in through the door, my daughter was not happy with the state of things.
The problem is there just aren’t enough houses for everyone.
And that’s not just in the make believe world of pretend play. One of the biggest challenges facing our borough is the lack of genuinely affordable housing. As we’ve listened to the stories of our toddler families, it’s become clear that it’s a problem that particularly affects families in the borough. Many of the families connected with our Baby Bank are living in temporary accommodation, being moved from one B&B to another, or in cramped hostels, sharing cooking and play spaces with countless other families. Almost all the parents at our Messy Families parenting group named housing as one of the biggest stresses of their family life. For many the only hope of finding more suitable housing is to move outside the borough, away from their jobs and support networks.
So for some time we’ve been trying to find a way to involve our toddlers and their families in our campaign for more affordable housing in the borough. But this hasn’t been easy. Our assemblies with local councillors have usually taken place in the evenings and for many parents the prospect of an over-tired toddler the next day has just been too daunting! So in the lead up to our housing assembly we realised that we needed to get creative to make the children’s needs heard.
And getting creative is just what we did! The goal of the assembly was to ask the Leader of the Council to commit to working with Redbridge Citizens to build 250 genuinely affordable homes as part of a Community Land Trust. So we decided to show him what that would look like by asking the children to paint 250 houses to display around the room. Our toddlers love to paint and it made sense to use their skills to give the Councillor a vision of the change we could make together.
We also invited parents to join our “pound4power” action, buying a share of the Community Land Trust for £1 as a sign of the real commitment of real people for the proposal. It wasn’t a big ask so parents were happy to sign up, with many buying shares for their children as well. Like the houses, “pound4power” is a reminder to the council that we have power to effect change in our community – people power.
So what have we learned about how our toddler group can change the world?
- Listen to what matters to families at the group – ask what puts pressure on their family life and what would make it better.
- Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
- Make the action small enough for little people to get involved, but big enough to get the message across!
Of course, these are just our first steps in justice seeking at toddler group. But as every parent knows, a child’s first steps are just the beginning of a whole new adventure!
Do you have any other experiences of getting children involved in justice-seeking? Please share them in the comments below!