For a long time, we’ve described Little Village as ‘like a foodbank, but for clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children’.
It’s true we give out essential items — everything from cots to socks — that children need. And I don’t want to underplay the importance of those items. We’ve seen the desperation and anxiety people experience when they feel they can’t provide for their kids. Imagine rationing nappies because you can’t afford the next pack. Imagine feeling unable to leave the house with your toddler and newborn baby because you don’t have a buggy. The basic items we supply matter in their own right.
But when I look at the feedback we get, I know that something else is going on.This feedback talks about a feeling we give people — of being respected and trusted. It talks about the way we create a place for connection and bonding across social divides. It talks about the powerful emotional charge that comes from families being able to support one another, when that support is needed most.
And so the foodbank analogy is helpful, but it doesn’t convey the deeper purpose of what we do here at Little Village. For me, that deeper purpose is about three things: solidarity, love and sustainability. This post is my first attempt to explain why these are the vital foundations of what we do.
There’s a reason we’re called Little Village. For me, a ‘village’ is about the solidarity and resilience that comes from being part of a network of support that is bigger than your family unit. It is a place of mutualism: the sharing of resources and responsibilities for everyone’s benefit. It is a place of support and care, where everyone has something to offer and where everyone has something to gain.
Through our work we want to build local villages across the global city of London, where families can support one another in times of need. In the Little Village community, everyone brings something to the table. We teach our volunteers that they are not here to fix people: we refuse to buy into the drama triangle that pits victims against persecutors, awaiting a rescuer. Instead, we are all parents, doing the best we can for our kids, and wanting the best for each other.
I choose to talk about solidarity, rather than connection, deliberately. Solidarity goes beyond connecting: it is about standing together, united in shared values. It shifts the power dynamic and levels the field.
I want to grow Little Village as a movement that’s united in the view that every parent wants and should be able to give their kids the best possible start in life. A movement that makes a stand against the abject conditions in which we see children living, in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Little Village is a welcoming, practical and social way of taking action to support these views.
People often arrive at our doors exhausted, anxious and defensive. They are in fight mode: they are used to battling the system, dealing with daily prejudice, and being let down by others. We hear time and again how ‘the system’ — benefits, housing, asylum officials — meet that fight with more fight. Interactions with the state and the associated language is denuded of all humanity — people are sanctioned, they are dispersed, they are asked to stand behind lines or share personal details with an official behind a glass wall.
At Little Village, in contrast, we meet that fight with love. We try to convey this in every possible way — from the arrival at our drop-in sessions, to the interactions with the volunteers, to the gifts we include for the parents in our bundles, to the quality and presentation of the items we are passing on.
The love is more than what we do though: it’s also a mindset. The best way of explaining this is to use two of Jung’s classic archetypes. First, try standing as the warrior: put your hands on your hips, clench your jaw, and look to the distance, poised and ready for the battle. Really connect with what it feels to be in this position. Next, shift your position to that of the lover: relax your jaw, stand tall, and hold your hands out in front of you, palms turned upwards and fists unclenched. Notice the contrast and what becomes possible in this second position.
We train our volunteers to stand as the lover. It is incredible to see people’s shoulders drop as they realise they don’t need to fight. It is moving to see the conversation and trust emerge as people — volunteers and families we’re supporting alike — realise that they are just talking to another parent who sitting opposite them, sharing stories about kids that won’t sleep, or swapping tips about how to distract them when they’re grumpy.
Creating a space where people can be themselves — in fact, that’s all we ask volunteers to do really — is very powerful. I’m very excited about the work we’re doing to explore how we can extend these approaches, using therapeutic and systems coaching methodologies.
I’m currently reading John Thackara’s fantastic book, which explores projects from around the world that reconnect our social and ecological systems. It’s an exhilarating read about food commons, social farming, cycle commerce, and care cooperatives.
These arrangements add up to a new kind of social infrastructure for the next economy: local money, mutual aid, platforms for sharing, Commoning, and Earth Law. — John Thackara, How To Thrive In The Next Economy
In his book John argues that the initiatives that we need to grow are those that show us how to use what we have, more mindfully and creatively. He’s captured the arguments and spirit of proponents of the circular economy, and I couldn’t agree more. What we’re trying to do at Little Village is redistribute material items more evenly, and maximise the usage of these goods, at the same time as achieving the social purposes I outline here.
I believe our social and environmental goals go hand-in-hand. We stand for kindness — and that has to include kindness to our planet. Our jam-packed stock rooms are a testament to the insane amount of consumption that goes with having a baby in the 21st century — and I want us to play a part in gently inviting people to reflect on the environmental implications of this desire to buy so much for our children.