If you had asked me my views on bringing up children in London a few years back, I was anti the idea – the harsh urban landscape seemingly in conflict with and unsuitable for a wee baby – and my attitude towards London quite transient and short term. But when nature took its course and I found myself committed to my life in London, with a growing bump and soon-to-be baby, I had to change my views and embrace my urban self and situation.
Surprisingly, a change in attitude has been relatively easy, thanks to the incredible ‘baby world’ that exists in London once you jump on the baby bandwagon. It’s like an underground world of yummy mummies and baby friendly cafes, daytime sing-alongs that take place in pubs, toy libraries brimming with colourful plastic, and babies perfecting their inversions in baby yoga – you name it, and you can most likely do it with your baby in London. Its a world that goes unnoticed by hundreds of thousands of Londoners who are busy commuting back and forth to work, to the theatre, to pubs, to raves on boats etc etc. I know, as I was one of them until not so long ago.
As an Islington resident, I have been particularly impressed by the council’s Sure Start children’s centres – there are sixteen of them in Islington borough alone – an incredible number! And all within a walkable distance from my home. Daisy and I have ventured out to a few of them. Baby massage at Hornsey Road is a particular favourite, with Alex sharing her magic on how to settle your baby and encourage a deeper sleep. Hungerford children’s centre have an under 1s ‘stay and play’. It is quite lovely, with mums and babies sitting in a cushioned play area, mums swapping feeding tips and sleep stories, and the babies coming into awareness of their own being as well as the existence of their baby neighbours. The staff at Hungerford are really friendly and supportive and each session ends with a group story time and an old school whirl-y-gig (a colourful parachute swooshing and swishing over the babies heads) which makes them gurgle with delight – delightful.
Most importantly of all, these sessions are either free or cost just a couple of pounds, making them accessible to everyone – great for those of us trying to stretch out our Statutory Maternity Pay. I’d say one of my biggest worries about having a baby in London, was that I didn’t know many other new mums in the area and was worried that it would cost the earth to attend baby activities and find some baby friends for Daisy (as well as new mum friends for me). But these children centres really do what they set out to achieve, so for those of us Baby Jumblers that live in boroughs that have continued to fund the centres, we are so lucky to have them.
For those boroughs that are no longer funding the Sure Start children’s centres or where funding has been reduced, I’ve heard that often, this means improvements in other areas and facilities. For example, whilst Haringey council has (apparently) reduced funding to their children’s centres, they have really ramped up their library facilities for children – so it’s worth fully researching understanding what your council does provide in the way of baby and children’s facilities, as these little communities are very accessible, and really help us new mum’s get to grips with our new world of mother and baby.
You can read more about the funding situation relating to children’s centres, and how many centres have shown a ‘picture of resilience and creativity’ when finding alternatives, in a piece of exclusive research completed by the national family charity, 4Children.