The Magpie Project

Monday 14 May 2018

E7-NowAndThen asked Jane Williams of a recently established local charity aimed at supporting young mums in desperate straits to tell us a little of the charity's background and record. It has achieved the unwanted status of being a success in an arena that should never exist. Please offer The Magpie Project your fullest support, however you can.

This is their story.

E7 is a place of increasing extremes. Houses selling for pushing £1m sit cheek by jowl with houses in multiple occupancy and bed and breakfast hostels where families live in appalling conditions - without access to the basic amenities of a safe, clean kitchen or bathroom.

'Gentrification' of the area has seen families unable to afford increasing rents being forced in to worse and worse living conditions. Newham also holds the unsavoury honour of being London's top borough, in terms of families in temporary accommodation.

As with most inequality and poverty, women and children tend to suffer first and most and longest. A recent Society Guardian investigation revealed that towards the end of 2017 there were at least 26,152 under-fives in temporary accommodation in England alone, 2,341 of them living in B&Bs.

Newham's own housing department accommodated 1,996 under-fives in temporary accommodation in December 2017.

Please don't stop reading. This is not an article running down E7 - on the contrary, this is a love letter to Newham in general, and Forest Gate in particular.

A simple idea

The idea behind the Magpie Project was simple. Those mums living in the dire circumstances of temporary accommodation, hostels, refuges or sofa surfing - were simply not getting to our local children's centres with their under-fives.

We worked with Kay Rowe Nursery and Children's Centre (one of our best early years providers, rated 'excellent' by Ofsted) to make sure that every child had the chance of benefiting from children's centres. So, for mothers whose lives are too complicated, those who don't have the bus fare, those who don't have the information, or feel too low or judged to engage - we wanted to come up with something.

We set up a simple play and stay, offering a friendly, non-judgemental, non-threatening space for mums to come with their under-fives.

We want to be a place where mums can get tea, coffee and chat to others in the same situation. Somehwre their children could play, have a healthy snack and lunch. We pay the bus fare, and while mums are with us - we bring in professionals from housing, immigration, health, employment and domestic violence services to help them begin to address the issues affecting their lives.

It was nerve-wracking back in June 2017, when we opened for the first time.

Volunteers and professionals sat in the room and waited for mums and children to come. Eight months, and 127 mums later - we get more than 20 families every time we open the door and an average of three new families a week come to us for help. So, we kinow we are on to something.

Community power

But what has been utterly astonishing is how YOU, Forest Gate and Newham, have taken these families to your hearts. What has been utterly extraordinary is that - the moment we started to talk about this - the vast majority of you responded with; "What can I do?".

And you did - do, in so many ways. You volunteered to run the stay and play, to make soup, to donate printing, clothes, to paint faces, to bake cakes, to run errands, to deliver leaflets, to donate baby equipment, toiletries, nappies and so much more - to come and share your skills and passions with our families at workshops.

More of you came forward with ideas for fundraising and a desire to give money.

Local charity, Community Links, helped gain our first funding. Aston Mansfield (Durning Hall) gave us a room for free and helped us with training and capacity building.

One mum and her eight month old
lived in this B&B room on Romford Rd

for six months. No place to play,
 to eat, to learn to crawl - continually

wiping mould off the walls. What
 upsets us is that we were paying this

landlord out of the public purse.
  We supported her to get rehoused - she

is now in a nicer (still temporary) home.
East Edge Sisters and Forest Gate WI fundraise for us. Woodgrange Market cake stal, veg stall and Anagram Antiques have all supported through donations and raffle prizes - and the wonderful Jeff and Andi at Number 8 Emporium have designed and sell a range of jewellery, just for us.

The support and love that Forest Gate and Newham families have extended to our own most vulnerable families and under-fives has been extra-ordinary and truly humbling to witness.

Only just beginning

And it goes on. There are plans afoot for a first anniversary fund-raiser, a summer extravaganza and, of course, a deepening and widening of the help we give to the homeless under-fives.

There are more than 1994 under-fives in Newham with no stable home. We have only seen 150 of them. So, our work is only beginning.

With community support like this - we hope they will be in safe hands.

 Success story

Below is just one example of the kind of situations the women we are working with face, in an effort to provide the simplest of needs for their children.

When D came to us in June 2017. She was living with her four children on the sofa of a friend. She had no recourse to public funds and was surviving on £37 a week from Newham Social Services. Her children were hungry and she was in extreme destitution.

We supported her, first practically by supply emergency funds through South West Ham Children’s Fund, and food bank referrals, getting hold of clothes, food, and equipment for her.

We then supported her to challenge the level of support she was receiving, through the recently retired ex Councillor Dianne Walls.

Shelter took on her case, as she was moved into temporary accommodation of her own.

She then had her case taken on by London Black Women’s Project and in February 2018 her indefinite leave to remain in the UK was granted. With the help of the family support worker that we introduced her to, at the local children’s centre, she has now applied for all benefits due to her.  

She is actively seeking work, through agencies, in residential care homes. D and her four children have been rehoused in Manor Park.

We cannot claim credit for these outcomes but we did support, enable, inform, connect and walk with D while she solved her own family’s issues.

She is now a founder member of our steering committee, she has introduced volunteers and other families to the project. She is a beacon of hope for the mums who are still in difficult situations.

Magpie Project in numbers

The sheer number of mums coming
 to us exceeded all our expectations.

We also had not expected to
find so many families "sofa-surfing"
homeless and being
 put up by friends - sometimes
 even kindly strangers.
You have provided
  • ·         50 volunteers (6 trustees, 24 on the day, 5 researchers, 6 fundraisers, 9 other)
  • ·         Close to £7,000 in community fundraising
  • ·         22 buggies
  • ·         Thousands of nappies
  • ·         Hundreds of beautiful baby clothes.

We have helped
  • ·         149 under fives
  • ·         127 mothers
  • ·         7 families rehomed in to more suitable accommodation through Shelter
  • ·         4 families’ level of Section 17 support challenged and improved
  • ·         2 families’ NRPF decision reversed with the help of The Unity Project.
  • ·         5 families received their indefinite leave to remain.

How you can help

  • ·         Give regularly
  • ·         Fundraise for us

  • ·         Donate good quality toddler clothes
  • ·         We always need toiletries, sanitary items and oyster cards.


·      Do you have skills you can share – either on the day or at other times:
  • ·         Treasury skills,
  • ·         Pick up and drop offs.
  • ·         Cooking soup.

  • ·         Spread the word in person or on social media.
  • ·         Talk about homelessness to everyone who will listen!

  • ·        Look into policies on housing
  • ·         Consider housing, childcare, early years education and domestic violence policies when voting.


      Support under-fives in temporary accommodation in Newham:
     Registered Charity Number: 1176267

     Keep in touch: Sign up for our e-newsletter:


     twitter, facebook, instagram: @themagpieprojectUK


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