Susan’s fall from affluent middle class parent to penniless single mother was steep and fast. The 38-year-old graduate was living with her wealthy partner in his six-bedroom home outside London, but when the relationship turned abusive, she swept up her two young children and left with just the clothes on their backs.
Susan had a small, unfurnished flat in north London she could move to, but she had no job and no money.
“I felt extremely low,” she said. “We had no beds and we slept on a sofa. I would lie there at night sick with worry. I was trying to carry on as normal for my children while everything crumbled around me. My youngest daughter was desperate to watch TV but I didn’t have one, so watched on my phone. There was a lot of crying and disappointment. I thought: should I go back?”
It was Christmas 2021 and Susan wanted to buy her children presents to offer a sense of normality, but with nothing in the bank she approached a health professional who referred her to the Little Village “baby bank”. Two weeks later, a large package arrived from Little Village containing clothing, jackets, books, toys, colouring-in books, as well as practical items like wet wipes, sanitary towels and shower gel.
“I thought miracles do happen,” said Susan. “That Christmas my children felt loved and cared for and it gave me the strength to carry on. I had previously worked as a hairdresser in a salon, but with my youngest so little, I couldn’t go full time, so I started cutting people’s hair at home. With my first wages I had £300 and I took £100 and gave it to Little Village because they brought back my faith in humanity.”
Little Village is one of the charities we are funding with a £50,000 grant out of our Winter Survival Appeal in partnership with Comic Relief. Founded in 2016, it has five hubs — in Brent, Camden, Hackney, Hounslow and Tooting — and has grown to support 7,000 parents with children aged zero to five referred by health visitors, midwives, food banks or other charities.
One-third of the parents they help are working parents in poverty, another third are refugees or asylum seekers and 11 per cent have been plunged into poverty fleeing domestic abuse. The sterling equivalent of the equipment they get from Little Village — including prams, mattresses and car-seats — is £1,100 for an infant and £750 for an older child.
Another single mother who turned to Little Village is Isabella, 35, a former supermarket retail assistant who lives with her one-year-old daughter in west London. Isabella separated from her partner two months after giving birth and, with no family to rely on, fell on hard times. She was homeless and moved into temporary accommodation supported by the council.
Holding her baby daughter, dressed in Little Village-supplied items of pink tights, white shoes and a pink dress, Isabella said: “I get universal credit of around £630 a month and after bills and paying off debts, I have around £50 a week left for food and nappies, so I am struggling. At this stage of the month I have £70 left that has to last me 10 days until my next universal credit drops into my account.
“I was in so much need as it was my first baby, so discovering Little Village was a huge relief. They listened to my situation and made a delivery to me. When I opened the package, I was like wow. It was full of great clothes, quality toys, bedding, nappies, toiletries, a bouncer and a walker.”
She added: “For me it was a game changer. It allowed me to think I can cope because I could use my benefits money to spend on food and heating. One of the hardest things about lack of money is that it makes it hard to participate in society and you feel isolated. Little Village make me feel part of a community. When I visit, they play with my daughter and give me support. It makes me feel positive about the future.”
Sophie Livingstone, chief executive of Little Village, said: “Many parents we help have been coping with the rising cost of living and struggle to see light at the end of the tunnel. We have some parents who have resorted to watering down formula and others who employ nappy rationing of one nappy every 24 hours. Many are working parents, including nurses on the NHS.”
She added: “The support we give these parents is important, not just because it helps with essential items, but because of the solidarity we show with mothers like Isabella and Susan. By giving we are saying, ‘we’ve got your back’. It can make all the difference.”
How you can help
£10 could provide a nourishing meal for a Londoner every day for a month
£20 could provide a duvet and pillow to a young person helping them sleep at night
£50 could contribute to a new school uniform for a child fleeing with a parent from an abusive relationship
£100 could provide 400 meals for families at a local community centre
£300 could pay for all that’s needed by a family expecting a baby, including new cot, mattress and pram
£1,750 could get a truck packed with enough food for 7,000 meals
In a nutshell
We have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis
To make a donation, visit comicrelief.com/wintersurvival