The Magpie Project were the winners of the London Homelessness Awards 2019, receiving a prize of £30,000. We asked Jane Williams at the project to tell us a bit more about what they do.
The Magpie Project is often asked what it is all about. Why is the Magpie Project here, and what is the ambition of the project?
We want there to be an end to sub-standard accommodation.
We want local authorities to stop judging women on their struggles and start helping to solve their problems with solutions that are humane, timely and effective.
We want society to stop judging women who have been trafficked, survived domestic slavery, domestic abuse, and worse – but instead turn the gaze on itself and ask how its own actions could have caused, or worsened these problems, and then what we can do about them.
We want the hostile environment to be dismantled so that children are not kept homeless and destitute.
Until that all happens (OK it might take a while) our task is very simple.
We are here to ask mums in temporary or insecure accommodation what they need to make mothering their under-fives easier. We ask, they tell us, we try to source it, make it happen, support it, and generally enable them to be the best mums they can be in really difficult circumstances.
We are here to bear witness to their struggles and to give voice to the things they want changed.
What we do ranges widely from making tea, listening, providing practical support, partnering with professionals who can provide advice on Housing, Early Years, Health, Immigration, and singing, dancing and celebrating our babies.
Perhaps it also helps to say what we are not.
We do not want to be here in a decade.
We would much prefer it if we didn’t exist. We want problems to be solved and disappear, not be covered up or sellotaped over by the charities and community groups.
We aim to equip those who use the project to solve their own problems, make their own decisions, and meet their own needs. This is about “walking with” and “being alongside” mums who need support, connection, belonging, information and advice – rather than doing things for them. Our core goal is to get mums and minis to the point where they are able – emotionally, financially, in terms of information and confidence – to access the services to which they are entitled.
But enabling mums is only half the issue. We realised quickly that we also need to educate these services in how to engage with mums.
While services told us these mums were “hard to reach” or “would not engage” we turned this around to tell them that they were “difficult to access” and “refused engagement”.
Our mums are doing a brilliant job in preparing themselves to access services from health, education, housing, social services and employment. But we find these services are often not aware, nuanced or informed enough on how to engage with these mums and young babies. Their services are not as universal as they claim if they do not take into account the barriers mums experience in gaining access to them. For example, no phone, no internet, not enough bus fare, English as a second language, and a big one – no childcare.
We are working with providers in our local area to make sure that they are aware of this group of women, and the barriers they face so that they can approach them with more sensitivity and understanding when offering services.
We are not in it for the profile
It may seem strange to say it, given the prizes we have won, the fashion shows and art shows we have been part of – but we are not that bothered about raising our own profile.
A bigger profile for us is not an end in itself but simply a means to making sure mums are heard.
The only reason that we speak up is to be able to get the voices and the stories of our mums into the public awareness.
We want to make people aware of the key issues that affect our mums. We want to tell everyone because every one of us can influence change.
What we do want is for mums to feel different, supported, empowered when they say they are a “Magpie Mum”. We want them, and others, to know that being a “Magpie Mum” means that you have community, you have belonging, you have access to lawyers, to advice, to encouragement and friendship. We want anybody who wishes to do our mums short, or abuse their vulnerable position to know that being a “Magpie Mum” means that won’t be easy.
We want to stop temporary accommodation causing permanent damage to young children.
With the pressure of the housing market, and the lack of social housing, councils are having to seek accommodation further and further away from people’s home borough (where it is cheaper) and of course quality drops and prices go up.
So we have mums and their kids in poor quality temporary accommodation, miles away from their friends, family and communities.
It gets worse. There is good evidence that poor quality housing has a detrimental effect on the health of children. This in turn can damage already challenged families and put additional demands on a health care system under intense pressure.
And for many of our mums there is the linked issue of having no recourse to public funds. This makes it impossible for people to provide for their children in the open economy and leaves people at risk of illegality and harassment.
We believe that every child has a right to somewhere safe to live; a relaxed, happy caregiver and enough to eat – no matter what the immigration status or income of their family.
Then we want to make sure that ALL mums and children have access to good quality housing and the universal services and support to which they are entitled.
When we achieve that, we will close down and not look back, we promise.
For more information about the Magpie Project go to https://themagpieproject.org/. For more information about the London Homelessness Awards, previous winners and your chance to enter for 2020 go to https://lhawards.org.uk/