Showcase: Steve Parkinson, Bulwell Toy Library

Bulwell Community Toy Library is a much loved organisation in Bulwell that has been around for over 35 years working directly with children and their families. We caught up with Steve Parkinson who shared his thoughts on the changes he’s seen over the years and his hopes for the future.

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How did it all begin?

Way back in 1978 a group of parents in Bulwell decided to set up a toy library because they wanted to help out those who were struggling to buy toys and playthings for their children, but also to bring families together to support each other. They knew that it isn’t easy to bring up children, particularly in difficult circumstances, and that sharing difficulties and successes with others in the same position is incredibly helpful.

They ran the toy library without paid workers for many years before eventually managing to get grants and sufficient money to gradually build up a staff team and run a wide range of services in response to the needs expressed by local families. To this day we are still managed by a board of trustees of whom the majority are local parents.

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What drives you as an organisation to work with children and their families?

Quite simply the fact that we were set up by local parents to support local families. It’s why we exist, everything we do aims to improve the opportunities and life chances of children in Bulwell. All of the statistics and indices of deprivation show that children here face many challenges through no fault of their own. They need all the help they can get and we are an expression of the local community and its determination to help itself.

What are you working on at the moment?

We have seen quite a few new developments over the last couple of years, such as opening a pre-school childcare unit for two year olds and establishing a community woodland in Barkers Wood locally. However the biggest new piece of work is delivering the Family Mentor Service in Bulwell for the Small Steps Big Changes programme. This is Nottingham’s programme funded by the Big Lottery, Better Start Fund, one of only five that were successful in gaining funding nationally. We got involved at the start in the development of Nottingham’s bid for this and helped to influence it towards having a community based element. We are now delighted to be delivering a programme that allows us to extend an approach to working with families that we have been using for many years.

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What would your dream project be, if money were no object?

If you’d asked me 3 years ago I might have described something very similar to Small Steps Big Changes Family Mentor service to be honest. Home visiting and groups sessions to support parents to improve the key child development outcomes for their children in the first 3-4 years, offered to every family in Bulwell. But now we’re doing it so dreams can come true! But not without a lot of hard work and true collaboration between different organisations and partners.

So now what? Our dream now is to extend that to work with school aged children in Bulwell. We have run play sessions, both indoor and outdoor for children aged 5-13 years since 2006. This work is harder and harder to fund. Play opportunities are absolutely vital for children to develop and learn, everyone knows that but when money is tight they are usually the first to go. We would like to bring together organisations already working with children and young people to develop an integrated and comprehensive programme of out of school opportunities for school aged children and young people in Bulwell.

Is there anything you would like to share with the world?

The most important thing that we have learnt over the years is that in order to make a real difference in communities it is essential to build trust and consistent relationships, to be alongside people, working ‘with’ them, not doing ‘to’ them.’

What are your hopes for Creative Nottingham North?

Creativity in any form can bring out the best in people and in communities. It is the basis of children’s play, builds self esteem, self expression and self motivation as well as bringing people together. I’d like to see Creative Nottingham North developing as many opportunities for people to explore their own creativity as possible.

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