Young children in the Banbridge area have been learning and discovering through play thanks to a community project supported by Clanmil Housing.
The Support For Mums group meets at Laurencetown Community Centre every week and is run by a committee of local parents. It welcomes young children (up to four years old) and their parents, where the adults can enjoy the company of other mums and dads and the little ones can have fun playing with a little help from a trained facilitator.
At the heart of the group is an innovative toy library, the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland. It was set up last year by local parent of three and part-time music teacher Maeve Brisk, and received funding last spring from Clanmil as part of the wider ‘Tak£500’ project run by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council. Clanmil have provided additional funding for the Support For Mums group’s play sessions since last winter.
The toy library was set up to provide a more affordable and eco-friendly way to play, with many families enjoying using toys and games that they would not otherwise be able to afford. The toys are sturdy and made from sustainable materials, and they are thoroughly cleaned and stored for at least 24 before being lent out again. They are suitable for many different ages and developmental needs, and include puzzles, games, pretend play figures and much more.
The toy library is run as a not-for-profit service via a website. Parents can pay an affordable membership fee, order the toys they’d like to borrow and collect them at a time that suits.
Referrals also come from organisations like SureStart, which means that no-one misses out on using the service.
As a former primary school teacher, Maeve has a solid understanding of the importance of play for child development and as a parent, understands that young children can get bored of toys, which can lead to a lot of waste. She said:
“Children can outgrow toys very quickly, as they are learning and developing all the time. Parents can feel under pressure to buy new toys and this can be a challenge for stretched budgets, and can lead to toys being discarded. The toy library project provides good quality, educational toys for a range of ages and needs, and is also very eco-friendly because fewer toys are being thrown out. I’m so grateful to Clanmil for supporting us to develop the project to enable us to buy more toys and to run the weekly play sessions.”
Austin Kelly, Community Cohesion Officer with Clanmil said:
“At Clanmil we support many projects that benefit children and their families and the Support For Mums project has been essential in relieving feelings of isolation and providing opportunities for children and their parents to play together, get access to excellent resources and increase their sense of belonging in the community. The toy library is a unique idea that has so many benefits. It is an eco-friendly solution to a challenge many parents have when they want to provide the best for their children without harming the environment or facing financial hardship.”
Clanmil Housing has allocated £2,600 to the project as part of a Good Relations Plan within Hawthorn Gardens in Banbridge, its shared neighbourhood development which opened in 2019.
Hawthorn Gardens is one of the initial 10 T:buc developments, which were a headline action in the NI Executive T:buc Strategy. Clanmil Housing continues to work in partnership with the local Advisory Group stakeholders, and with residents to develop the scheme’s Good Relations Plan.
Find out more about the Banbridge Toy Library on Facebook at www.facebook.com/banbridgetoylibrary
The project is supported through the NI Executive Together: Building a United Community Strategy, which reflects the Executive’s commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society. The Hawthorn Gardens shared housing development is also supported by the Department for Communities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
A total of £2,402,000 was invested in the shared housing development and associated five-year Good Relations Plan. This includes the Housing Association Grant of £2,059,000 and TBUC/ Good Relations Support of £343,000.
Clanmil Housing Association currently has five shared housing developments across Northern Ireland and is promoting a further three.
The Hawthorn Gardens Good Relations Plan includes ‘Bridging’ events which are delivered to the wider community to encourage a range of good relations outcomes which include Health and Wellbeing, Education and Training.
For information about the Together: Building a United Community please visit: The Executive Office - Together: Building a United Community.
For more information about the Shared Housing Programme please visit: Department for Communities - Shared Housing Programme