Messy play delivering much needed support to families

Credit: Sandra Razika

By Maria Joseph, Coordinator, The Engine Room

Whilst the majority of the borough’s children’s drop-in sessions have been closed down, the Engine Room in Hale Village continues to provide a Covid-19 secure service to families in need of respite.

The messy play sessions provide a safe space where adults can bring a baby or toddler in their care to play and interact with other babies and children of their age group. For children this is an important stage of their pre-school language and social development, where they learn to share and communicate with others.

For adults, especially first-time parents without family support systems in place, caring for an infant can at times be an overwhelming and lonely experience. The drop-in provides a supportive environment where parents, carers, and grandparents are able to network with one another, receive physical and mental support, as well as useful words of advice or encouragement if they have any fears or concerns.

Messy play includes a variety of engaging activities and toys, with each activity catering for a different learning experience. The baby mat hosts a variety of multisensory toys and books where adults can interact with their child in a relaxed atmosphere. There are building and construction activities, a home corner, messy craft, physical activities, and one of our favourite activities − the ball pit. The session is rounded off by a sing along segment which I lead.

Credit: Rosie Skinner-Matey

The drop-in has faced quite a few challenges because of the coronavirus crisis, which meant the service was shut down for six months. The uncertainty of future restrictions led to us having to reduce the numbers per session, in addition to there being assessments on which equipment can be used during the pandemic. Not being able to offer refreshments has also been difficult.

The Engine Room carried out a full risk assessment of the drop-in prior to reopening, and changes in operation practises include implementing Track and Trace, appropriate social distancing, sanitising hands upon arrival, wearing masks, and anti-bacterial wipe-as-you-go regimes.

It is good to be able to support the local community in this way when so many free or affordable early years services have been cut. We feel it is in the whole community’s interest that we are able to promote good mental health through Covid-safe socialisation.

Sessions are currently running every Thursday from 10.00–11.30am in the main hall of St Francis at the Engine Room, Hale Village. They are run by church community worker, Maria Joseph and are assisted by Father Andrew. Access to a session can be pre-booked via phone to the office: 0208 808 5490 or directly to Maria through the WhatsApp group. Bookings are taken on Mondays.

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