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Lambeth Kids Empowered by Unity Cafe  

City Harvest Meets Grove Adventure Playground, whose cafe receives surplus food to feed the youth, provide sanctuary & inspire

“I love it when City Harvest brings us meat because then we can make the food everyone likes the best”

Our in house journalist, Tay Motl, visited the Grove Adventure Playground, a tale of the community coming together to build something that make the days more special for children.

Just around the corner from Loughborough Junction train station, in the middle of the Loughborough Estate sits the Grove Adventure Playground.

Sadly for the children in the area, the playground had been shut for three years and Lambeth council planned to sell the site for housing. A local councillor asked if the area needed an adventure playground and the local people said yes! The Loughborough Junction Action group (LJAG) got involved and took a temporary lease on the playground while Lambeth council decided what to do with it. Tragically, a young person was murdered in the youth club next door and council prioritised the playground as a safe space for kids, meaning that the future of the playground is safe, for now.

LJAG, formed of passionate local volunteers set to work to revamp the playground and opened it up as an amazing place for local children to come and play, socialise, do crafts, cook and eat together. The playground contains an amazing climbing structure with slides, zip swings and climbing towers. The kids are given a safety lesson when they first attend to ensure everyone plays safely. Any child can attend, registering when they first visit and welcome to come every day through the summer holidays for free. The playground has 270 children on their register and can host up to 70 at a time.

As with lots of our children’s services, funding is always an issue and LJAG have had to work hard to raise the money to keep it open. They secured funding from Children in Need amongst other places and have now been open since last year.

The playground boasts a café called ‘The Unity Café' which was designed and built by the kids in conjunction with a charity called ‘Build It up’ who are funded by Comic Relief and do great work working with kids across the capital, teaching them how to design and then build structures themselves. The kids take turns running the café, serving each other drinks and snacks, which City Harvest provide. They wash up and take responsibility for the café which teaches independence and confidence.

On our arrival I was met by Oli the full-time play leader. Oli was full of energy and welcomed us and my two children, showed us around and explained that we had to be careful on the climbing equipment and around the firepit but to get stuck in and have fun.

We run our own little currency so if the kids help out with the cooking and cleaning, they can earn extra treats from the Unity Café. It encourages them to pitch in and teaches them that if they do some work, they get rewarded”.

When lunch was ready, Oli, the play leader calls out for help “Wash your hands and we need some servers” he calls. An enthusiastic group of kids bring out cutlery and plates and get ready behind the trays of food to be served. Everyone, including myself got in line and were served up delicious plates of macaroni & cheese and several choices of mixed vegetables and salads. One of the kids serving up the salads told me “We make the salads ourselves, this one is the funky salad, we put some mint and chilli in it. We try out different ideas each day”

After everyone had enough to eat, I got a chance to talk to Leah who was head chef that day. Leah has been a chef for 20 years and brings her skills and knowledge to the playground which she shares with the kids. “Today’s delivery was so good. Last week I asked Michael the driver if you had any chicken and today he brought us chicken that had been donated by Nando’s. Its brilliant, the kids love to have chicken and we can’t afford to buy it so I’m going to save it for our end of summer bbq

Leah went on to explain, “Last summer we opened with a small pot of funding for playworkers. We asked the kids to bring a packed lunch but found that they were still hungry. One of our amazing volunteers, Nick, went around to the local businesses and asked them all for a small donation which we used to set up a breakfast club which the kids loved. As the winter came on, we thought we ought to try and offer a hot meal and that’s where City Harvest came in."

“How brilliant it is to have fruit, that we couldn’t otherwise afford. The kids eat and eat, the fruit and treats from City Harvest are great. Our budget just didn’t stretch to that. We could afford the basics like pasta, but things like cheese, no. The lovely breads and veggies that City Harvest bring means we can make really decent meals.”

“In terms of budgeting, we run on empty and just manage to get by. Thanks to City Harvest and Fareshare, we feed about 70 people, 5 days a week for about £20 a day. City Harvest brings the add on’s we could never offer- even apples, can you imagine how much it costs to buy apples for 70 kids out of a £20 budget. The food City Harvest donates means we can give the kids a proper feast with healthy foods and treats.”

The food has become an integral part of Grove's offer. Feeding the children and young people with a healthy meal, most of whom are involved in active play for up to 6 hours during the play-scheme. The activities of the cooking club, the unity cafe and fire pit cooking and fire building, are some of the most popular activities at the playground. City Harvest assists Grove in providing these important parts of play-scheme.

Next up I had a chat with Anthea who is part of LJAG and was pivotal in setting up the playground. Anthea told me a little about the history of the playground, that it had been around for around 50 years on several local sites but had been on this site for around 32 years and has been integral to the local community.

One of our philosophies is about teaching children to manage risks. Its hugely important. The children learn how to be safe on the equipment, around the firepit and in the kitchen. Some kids don’t get to these things at home so we are teaching them life skills that they will carry forward. Even though we’ve only been open for a year, there is a real sense of ownership from the kids, it’s their space”.

This sense of community and cohesion is vitally important, particularly in London where you can be surrounded by people yet still feel isolated.

Before I left, I had a chat with a few of the children who had been working hard preparing lunch and with the cleaning up. Talitha, aged 8, told me she comes to the playground several times a week and loves to get involved with the cooking “I really like making cakes and inventing salads. I cook them all the time at home now, I love to cook”

I also met John who is 14. Leah told me he is an immense help in the kitchen and is a future potential chef. “I love to cook Bolognese, everyone loves the pasta with meat sauce. I’m going to be a volunteer helper here when I’m 15, it’s like being a member of staff, you get to help the younger kids”

City Harvest is proud to support this vital community resource, which since reopening has enhanced the lives of more than 200 families and young people in the Lambeth neighbourhood.


Written by: Tay Motl

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