Waterways Children’s Centre

Guest Post by: Dulcie Ruttley-Dornan, the Strategic Communications Officer at Groundwork London

“Shyanna Rose was 3 years old when we started attending the sessions. Shyanna wears a hearing aid and Sara ensured Shyanna understood all of the instructions and made her feel included. Sara is amazing at what she does”.  

Sara is one of the Forest school leaders at the Waterways Children’s Centre in Thamesmead, London. She works mostly with children under the age of five but has recently started running outdoor sessions for their families as well. 

The Waterways Children’s Centre engages families with high levels of needs in outdoor learning activities and is having a valuable impact on the Thamesmead community. From educating about the environment to improving mental health, the Waterways team are building a stronger community network and support system.

Lisa Walsh is the Strategic Lead for the Children’s Centre and others in East London. She applied for a grant with the Making Space for Nature programme to fund a new project that would benefit the community on a greater scale. A successful application meant they were able to increase their support in the community from children to benefit whole families.

“This was such a positive experience, working together and seeing all the children with smiles on their faces!” 

The Making Space for Nature (MSFN) community fund was established as part of the CLEVER Cities project based in Thamesmead and other cities in Europe, including Milan in Italy. The project uses nature-based solutions to address urban challenges and promote social inclusion. This is the second year of the MSFN programme and for relatively small grants of £200 to £2000, it welcomes applications from anyone who wants to help celebrate, enhance, and create unique physical and social spaces in the local area. The fund is closed for this year but they are hoping to be able to open a third round to support more community projects in 2023.

During the difficult period of the pandemic, Lisa had a grand idea to expand the support that Waterways was providing to children to include their parents and families. The MSFN grant enabled the Children’s Centre to begin providing educational and social experiences to families that they may otherwise miss out on due to their personal circumstances. For example, families without an external space at home, such as a garden or balcony, could use the Children’s Centre as a safe environment for their children to learn and play. 

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. From supporting single parents and new mothers, one of whom had experienced post-natal depression, to inspiring young children to see insects and plants in a new way and instilling a sense of care and duty in them.

“I am so extremely grateful for the services available to me to use as a parent and as a childminder. The Children’s Centre staff helped me so much as a new mum.” 

Waterways works at the early years foundation stage; a standard set by the UK Government for educating children under the age of 5 years old. This is a crucial time to teach positive values and support the development of the next generation: The future stewards of our land. One local parent said the activities give the children an increased connection and greater respect for nature. 

Evgenia is a mum of two young boys and has been going to Waterways Children’s Centre since 2019. Recently, Evgenia has attended family outdoor activities at the Forest School with her sons and told us about her experience: 

“My sons are both lockdown babies so they were not keen on being outdoors and getting dirty. They started slowly, playing in the mud and kitchen area, they enjoyed playing with soil and watering the plants. It was good to see, within one session, how much their lives have changed. This has created a foundation for my boys to love nature, care for plants, observe and make judgements and develop their thinking. They really enjoy watering our plants at home and even water the plants for our neighbours if they look thirsty!  

“They are now really curious about bugs and insects and if we are out walking and see a bug they want to make sure it is protected. All of this is an outcome from the Forest School sessions; the boys have learnt skills for life and helped them develop a better version of themselves. I feel really blessed having this opportunity and hope we can have lots more sessions.” 

This year, Waterways Children Centre has been running outdoor activity sessions, which have given local families an opportunity to learn about nature and healthy eating, as well as to meet and socialise with their neighbours. This is having a positive impact on mental and physical health, increased self-esteem, as well as strengthening the community through nurturing relationships and support networks. 

Sonia is a mother and registered childminder in Thamesmead. She takes her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Leela, and the children she minds to nature-based activities. Sonia said during the sessions the children planted seeds and took them home to see them grow into sunflowers, they also learned about biodiversity and insects. 

“The learning opportunities in this Forest School session were so vast and the kids honestly got so much from it.”

The Waterways Children’s Centre is providing support to the Thamesmead community in all areas, from education to family support. This service is essential to many local families and the effects will continue to be seen as these children grow up and become changemakers themselves. Community funds like the Making Space for Nature programme play a pivotal role in supporting communities like Thamesmead. Lisa said that frequent small amounts of money are often preferred to larger sums as they help Waterways implement positive change regularly and quickly. 

If you would like to find out more about the Children’s Centre or need support, visit their website https://www.better.org.uk/children-centre/london/greenwich/waterways

And for more about the Making Space for Nature programme, visit https://clevercities.eu/

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