Interview with Sophia, our founder and Chief Executive

“I wasn’t alone in wanting to help every parent give their kids the start in life they deserve”

As we kick off the autumn term, Chief Executive and Founder, Sophia Parker, talks about the first two years of Little Village and why our help and support for local families is needed now more than ever.

1. What made you first believe there was a need for Little Village?

I’ve worked throughout my career on ways we can tackle poverty and inequality. In the past I’ve written books and policy papers about it, but becoming a mum made me connect much more directly to how tough life with small children is when you’re living on a low income. I was shocked at the amount of kit babies seem to need, and also at the massive amount of stuff people gave me – much more than my little people would ever need. Little Village grew out of a very practical desire to help other local families who are struggling, at the same time as putting all my excess baby gear to good use. Once I started talking about the idea, it really snowballed – it seems I wasn’t alone in wanting to help every parent give their kids the start in life they deserve. Before I knew it, my living room was rammed with donations and we just had to start!

2. What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of so much. I’m incredibly proud of the volunteers we have managed to attract to keep Little Village going on a daily and weekly basis. Our volunteers are our lifeblood. They bring total commitment, humour, respect and a passion for sorting clothes that never ceases to amaze me. I’m proud of the communities in Camden, Wandsworth and Southwark who have funded our running costs for the last two years as well as donating clothes and equipment so generously. I’m proud that so much of the feedback we receive is about the way in which we pass on items, as well as the items themselves – people tell us they feel that they’ve been treated with dignity, that they’ve really enjoyed visiting us. For me, that’s what Little Village is all about – a gift from one family to another, given with love.

3. Has anything shocked or surprised you?

Because of my previous career, I already knew that child poverty levels in London are distressingly high – and in fact they are now rising again for the first time in 20 years, which is pretty depressing given that even now, 1 in 3 kids in London is growing up below the breadline. The two things that have shocked me are first, the invisibility of poverty in everyday life. People are shocked at the number of children growing up in poverty on our doorstep; also they are shocked that often this is abject poverty – people struggling to afford nappies and cots, mums going without in order to feed their older children or keep their room warm. Secondly, I’ve been shocked by the prevalence of deep trauma we see – often brought about by some form of gender-based violence, whether that’s abuse in childhood, or violent and controlling behaviour later on. We don’t talk about it much, but one day I’m going to start writing about this as I think it’s a huge, unrecognised issue that is making life incredibly difficult for some of the women we see.

4. What are your goals for this coming year?

We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to deliver on our core mission, which is to help as many families as we can with dignity and kindness. We’re launching our third site, Southwark, in the next few months and this year is all about building the Little Village family across Wandsworth, Camden and Southwark – very exciting! We’re going to be working hard with lots of other local partners to ensure that the practical support we offer is really well connected to the emotional and social support we know is equally vital.

We also want to extend the storytelling work we’ve started to do with some of the mums we’ve helped, so that they can use Little Village as a platform to talk about what it means to them to raise kids in poverty. Rebecca Solnit – the woman who coined the wonderful phrase ‘mansplaining’ – has talked about how poverty silences people, and we want to ensure that more people hear the stories we hear every week. People should not be living in the circumstances we see in 2018. The first step to changing that is to raise awareness and that’s what we’d like to do.

5. How can people get involved?

Head over to our volunteer page to tell us where you’d like to volunteer, how frequently, and what skills you can offer.

You could also set up a monthly direct debit to cover our core costs, without which we cannot continue to operate. The Big Lottery Fund is paying for some core staff salaries, meaning all donations will go directly towards the running costs of our work.

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