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IPA runs many services and we realise that the only way to make sure that statutory services are welcoming and open to all families is to create our own way in and so we created our café idea. The target group was local mothers and carers who felt excluded, intimidated or too worried to seek help from council-funded services that often seemed harsh, scary or judgemental. The funding came from the charity’s own work and added value to the council’s contract.
The idea was simple, we knew from working in the borough for over 40 years that sometimes all it takes is a friendly face, a supportive hand to make all the difference for families. We also knew that sometimes families do not feel ready for ‘services’, they just want to talk things through and have a safe space. Our staff built on their knowledge of play theory, community and child development to create the space.
At IPA we believe that the only way to really support children and families is to allow them to create their own solutions. Our job is to facilitate that and playworkers are the ideal people to be able to do that as they really understand the importance of creating a safe, creative space that allows people to explore and meet others, making their own support networks that can nourish them into the future.
We found that many mums found it difficult to describe their experiences or to ask for help and that the informal feel of the café, where they can get a subsidised cup of coffee and see their children play, helped them
“It was a place where lasting friendships were made and the whole community – the rich and poor, the very young and the old and everyone in between – could be together, and that is rare.”
“When I first had my son, it was such an important place for me,” “Sometimes it can get lonely in the early stages of motherhood and parenthood but there was always a warm welcome at the café and there were other people there in similar circumstances”.
The café space allows parents to create peer networks that are different from those networks supported by statutory services. The innovative aspect was that we are a voluntary sector provider delivering statutory services wrapped in and wrapping around our community with locally focussed ways of working, all delivered in the centre that we helped to fundraise for. People are able to talk to their peers in ways that they find difficult to do with professionals or in council-run buildings that can often seem institutional. Informal chatting is not something that other services can necessarily facilitate and it is a precious thing to create a space where families from the many diverse groups in Islington all feel able to mix and meet each other.
Supporters say the café is a “unique and special safe haven” for people in the area and offers solace and advice to those with mental health issues and financial problems.
“It’s really a place of sanctuary. People are often afraid to talk about issues in the groups but in the cafe people will. It’s a really powerful tool for including people who would have difficulty attending large group settings.”