"But Jesus said.... ‘She did what she could, and she did it for me’." (Mark 14:8) NIV
Ivy Street Family Centre Trust is a Christian charity based in Hoxton, London, that seeks to provide warm and welcoming spaces for children and their carers in a space where they can have fun, feel valued and loved. Serving the estates of the local area, they reach out to those young families who need their help. They also run a ‘Growbaby’ centre, which provides new and high-quality second-hand baby clothes and equipment for families in need.
The building where they are based and run the centre from, is an old pub called the Queen Adelaide built in 1902. It was sold to a local youth charity in 1965 for £1 and then given as a donation to the local community for use as a Family Centre in 1981.
After reaching the conclusion that they could not continue to operate in the building in its former state of disrepair, they extensively fundraised to re-fit it, and in partnership with a local architect redeveloped the building.
To ensure that they could complete their centre for opening in the Summer of 2023, Stewardship assisted with finance to help with the final fit-out.
Now it has opened again to the public, Chris Perkins and Floss Wilkinson from Stewardship visited the centre and met with Angela Large to chat about the charity; what they do, how they help those in need and their vision for the future.
Q: Tell us about the community that you serve.
A: The community that we serve here is very mixed and very diverse. We welcome everyone at Ivy Street. Lots of people who have lived here (in Hoxton) for all their lives and lots of people who have moved here from all over the world. It’s a fantastic place to live. My kids grew up here and they are okay with everything, nothing phases them! We’ve had a fantastic time here over the last 20 years.
Q: Tell us about the families that you serve.
A: The families that we serve are usually local. Most people live within a mile of the centre. Lots of people come nearly every day that we are open because they really like the homely feel that we’ve created and the activities that we provide. Over the years we’ve done all sorts of things.
There was a period where we realised lots of families were not getting away on holiday in the summer, so we did a summer holiday. Most people now can go away, so we don’t do that anymore.
The families are local and they want the best for their kids. They want them to have the best start in life. Here the kids learn how to share, take turns, and sit in circles so it sets them up well. Most of the children are very small, so we bring things into the centre like the barn, music, and clowns!
Q: Tell us about what an average week looks like at Ivy Street.
A: On an average week we have a program of sessions that our lovely Play Leaders run with music, storytelling and messy play. But really anything can happen, sometimes it's very quiet, and sometimes it's really, really, busy!
We could have anyone turn up at the door; grandparents, childminders, aunties, uncles, anybody really. Sometimes somebody is in a crisis, and they’ll come through the door and there will be someone who can hold their baby, whilst another can put their arm around them. Other times there might be a big celebration for someone’s birthday – so really anything can happen! Anybody can walk through the door and over the years we have supported lots of families through all kinds of crises, for example, a relationship breakdown or a diagnosis of a child with autism.
Q: What is your vision for Ivy Street?
A: I love Ivy Street and what we do here with my whole heart! I want to see this as a place of sanctuary for people.
One of my great passions is that people around here have not had the chances that other people do in other areas of the country. We have some phenomenally talented parents, particularly mums. My passion is to see this as a place where people can get experience and gain confidence. We have had people move on to gain qualifications in the past. I would really like to see this as a hub where people can come, gain confidence, gain skills, and then can go on to make a better life for them and their kids.
We do that in all kinds of ways. We are always responding to the community and what they want - I’ve got loads of ideas! We would love to run things like cooking clubs and after school clubs. We are taking it slowly, and now we have our new building we are taking the time to find out what is really going to meet those needs and help people. We have the facility now to really grow and expand on what we’ve built for the last 40 years.
Q: Tell us about this building, the re-fit and what it's going to help you achieve.
A: We existed for a very long time in an old pub which eventually 'gave up' - it was propped up from the outside, there was water coming through, there was an old heater that wasn’t really heating – it was terrible really! Yet people still came to us because of the homely atmosphere. It was extraordinary, but eventually we had to close the building.
We have been trying to re-build the building since I started. The first time they thought about refurbishing the building was in 1997 – so a really long time ago. My kids have both grown up and left home in the time it’s taken!
Eventually we found a way to do it, and the fit out of our space meant that there was a flat on top which enabled us to do the whole thing and has enabled us to really bed down into what we want to do.
Rather than spending our energy on trying to get a building built, we have been able to really meet the needs of the community with this great space. We have already been approached by midwives who want to use the building and lots of others wanting to use the space as a party venue for example. We now have a resource to share with the whole community.
Q: Tell us a story about a life that has been impacted by Ivy Street.
A: The example that I love is about a new mum who came to us. She was very young, about 16 or 17, and was very nervous. She had just left school with no qualifications and came from a very difficult family background. She would come with her little daughter and she really got involved. She loved it here because it was a non-judgmental space for her to come and feel at home in. She left when her child started school but then had another child and so came back to us and was even more involved. She came on our family holidays and all sorts. And then when that second child was going to go to school she said, "I need to do something, do you know where I can be a volunteer?" and I said, "Come here!".
She was absolutely fantastic, but one of those people who just hadn’t had the chances in life. She was very intelligent, very calm, a lovely personality. So she came and volunteered for a bit and then she got herself into a course to study childcare, and to get some GCSE’s which she had missed out on at school. We encouraged her through this; we helped provide her work placement and we gave her a bit of responsibility in the playgroup, a few admin skills and that kind of thing. The sort of thing which other people might have learnt while growing up, but she had missed out on.
Eventually we both agreed that Ivy Street was not big enough for her anymore - she needed to fly the nest. She got a job at a local school as a lunchtime meal supervisor. Then she got a job as an Assistant Teacher. She was so brilliant at this that the school employed her as a Class Teacher without any qualifications. She is now at university studying teaching. Her daughter is at college and obtained 9 GCSEs and her son is also doing well at school. She credits this to her time at Ivy Street.
There are lots of stories like that, when people arrived really nervous and shy about not wanting to be judged for being a young mum and doing things the wrong way. Here at Ivy Street, we nurture people through that, and I would love to see more of that happening.
Q: Are there any bible verses that express what you do here?
A: For me, my favourite verse is when the woman has poured perfume on Jesus’ feet...The others tell her off, but Jesus says, "She did what she could, and she did it for me". (Mark 14:8)
For me, that’s what my mission is about, I do what I can and it's all for Him. It might not be initially obvious, but that is deliberate so that people can come from any faith and feel welcomed, but everything is for Jesus, and we welcome everybody.
Q: How many families do you have come in on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis?
A: It's difficult to say because it's an open access service and we don’t operate a waiting list or anything, but we have about 250 families who come through the door every year.
Of those, 50 would be regulars. We have some families who come through the door every time we are open and that is a smaller amount, but there is a regular core group who usually form friendships here and then take them into the community and local schools.
So, I really feel we’ve got a wider impact in Hoxton. All of us have worked here for so long, walking down the street, we see loads of people we know. If we see a kid misbehaving, we’ve got a bit of leeway with them to say, "I know your mum!". It builds a community and a sense of cohesion.
Q: Where do you see Ivy Street in the next five years?
A: There is a lot to do in a new building!
Claire and I who run the leadership side of Ivy Street, really want to get it into a state where it can run smoothly; putting into place all of the systems that you need in a new building. I see this space being used more and more for the community We would love to see it used not just during the school hours but also in the evenings and at the weekend - I’ve got all sorts of ideas!
We would love to run a contact centre for adopted and fostered children, dad groups, after school clubs, and holiday clubs. We want this space used all year round and for as many hours as possible. That’s where we are heading, but we want to grow organically and really build on the relationships and strengthen those partnerships between different organisations.
Q: How has Stewardship helped you?
A: Stewardship helped amazingly because you gave us a loan to help us get across the finish line. Building works are always very expensive and they tend to run over budget, and we were really pleased to be helped by Stewardship which allowed us to re-open really. Without that we wouldn’t be where we are today. We are very grateful!
Q: If people wanted to support Ivy Street financially, how could they do that?
A: Regular donations are really helpful because they help us budget and plan for the future. Even as little as £10 a month would really help us stabilise what we do here.
With Ivy Street a little bit of money really makes a massive difference, every pound in a smaller organisation like this can go a long way because we all work from the heart. We have had legacies in the past from wills, so yes, all the normal channels of giving.
You can support Ivy Street's transformative work with Stewardship by giving a one-off gift, or a regular gift.
Photo reference: Ivy Street Family Centre Trust
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