With the deadline for the next phase of the Knee High Challenge fast approaching, we thought it was a suitable time to reflect on what we’ve achieved in the last 6 weeks.

And what a few weeks it’s been for the team (a mix of staff from Viridian Housing and the Innovation Unit). We’ve run drop-in events for parents and their children, visited people in their homes, met with a host of different providers across Lambeth and Southwark, and spoken to others from even further afield. We’ve dry dunked donuts, made Halloween lanterns, done plenty of cutting and sticking, and spent far more on glitter than we’d anticipated at the start of the process.

Along the way our idea has been poked, prodded and pulled in all sorts of different directions. I think it’s fair to say the experience has taken us out of our comfort zone, but in a very good way. And with support from the parents and children we’ve been working we’ve hopefully, hopefully, got a much stronger proposition that’s starting to take shape.

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Our original idea Me Time was going to encourage parents turn to others for childcare support, so that they got some time to themselves. Along the way though this has morphed into The Birthday Club. Why? Well if we’re being completely honest it’s because our original idea just didn’t resonate with people. Parents didn’t feel able to turn to neighbours and they didn’t want to invite them into their own homes. It was also clear that it was the needs of their children that they put before everything else.

As we’ve explored with parents what else we could do to help, we’ve found they really value opportunities to meet others in social settings. Stimulating social activities for children and their parents seem to open up a way of building trust between parents, reducing some of the stress they feel, and encouraging collaboration. But to get things moving we needed a hook to draw people in, and what could be better than the excuse to have a party?

Through the Birthday Club we’re going to bring families together for a party. Parents will help others to celebrate their children’s birthday in their local neighbourhood. Children get to enjoy a special occasion, while parents can forget about their everyday worries for a couple of hours in the company of their friends and neighbours. In doing so we hope this will act as a catalyst for new friendships, build local social networks, offer inspiration for future children’s activities, and provide parents with opportunities for their own development.

Whatever happens next, we believe this idea has great potential and it will certainly be interesting to see how it evolves.

Thanks, Ed Wallace