29th June 2016
A great blog written by HV Emma Carey on the lovely project that she is running in East Lancashire.
The Finnish baby boxes are taking the world by storm, aren’t they?! Giving every child, regardless of background, the same good start in life and improving their chances of good longer-term outcomes, too.
I wanted to do something similar for families in Lancashire, targeting especially vulnerable and disadvantaged new parents to give them the same start as their more affluent peers. So, together with a trusty band of volunteers, the East Lancs baby boxes were created, packed with newborn essentials – and a bit of a twist.
Woolly Ann Summers Party?
I’ll admit, asking a local shop owner if she would come to my house one night to partake in an event which promised to be “a bit like a woolly Ann Summers Party” was a little risky. We had not met before, after all, and this request was probably not in keeping with questions typically addressed to her in our local Village Wool Shop.
However, not only did she immediately agree to equip party-goers with the skills necessary to create the things I had in mind, she also offered to host the event at the wool shop and provide all materials free of charge.
I’d never knitted anything before in my life. Neither had half of the keen recruits that turned up on the night, their arms full of donations of children’s baby clothes, packs of nappies, wipes and teddies. But we were all keen to learn!
“Knit and natter extravaganza”
Something really quite extraordinary happened that night. The people who attended found that learning these new or long-forgotten skills made them feel happy, empowered and accomplished. Although most had not met each other before, they kept in touch after the event and encouraged each other with pictures of their growing woolly baby hats, booties and blankets. Our “one off knit and natter extravaganza” became the thriving Knitting Smiles Across East Lancs community group, creating links with local homeless services and refuges. The boxes were packed up lovingly with handmade and donated gifts to help new and especially isolated or vulnerable families feel cared for and to take the pressure off finding those first few essential items, leaving them free to simply enjoy their babies.
The donations have arrived in hoards. LUSH cosmetics donated soaps for the new mums. Tesco provided us with a gift card, and parents from all over our locality sent in gifts, toys, handmade knitted baby clothes and donations that their own children had outgrown. Alongside their new Lush soap, new mums receiving the finished boxes were also treated with chocolate and bubble bath, and a face mask or body butter – also all donated via the wider community. Our local hospital gave us sturdy boxes for the cause and local children provided colourful drawings to stick over the pictures of catheters and cannulas!
Surprisingly, this project has served a two-fold objective; as a byproduct of trying to help a family feel supported during those special first days, we have seen the growth of community spirit, friendship, skills and wider community capacity.
I have also started admiring the structure and intricacies of the classic cardigan in a way I never thought possible. This has been a surprising but enlightening experience…
Our once “novice knitters” are now becoming teachers for new group members. Learning new skills has empowered people and had an positive influence on their health and wellbeing and no one wants to stop!
Our future plans include bringing knitting classes into the heart of the communities we are trying to support. A local refuge has expressed an interest for us to visit and spend time teaching these skills to some residents.
Local projects have our contact details and can let us know when a box may be needed. I drop boxes off to vulnerable families most weeks, usually at night when my own children are tucked up in bed. I don’t meet a family in person, but I will often have a little cry on my way home thinking about them.
Local community care
We have all undoubtedly felt loneliness at some point in our lives, but for most of us this has been fleeting. For women escaping violence or war, suffering from mental ill-health, being isolated or ostracised from their friends or having no family support, I hope that knowing their local community cares will offer some comfort and ultimately allow them to start their new family life with a smile.