I just love the great diversity of groups and initiatives who strive to make Haringey a more welcoming and kinder place and Pram Depot has been doing this work for a very long time. It was a joy to have this chat with Oonagh and Karen about the beginnings of the project, the pivoting during the pandemic, current challenges and future plans.
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Hi I'm Jamila and anybody everybody Tottenham is a bi monthly podcast, introducing the good people of Tottenham to you. Hello there, my friends, strangers. I am briefly coming up from my constant marking of speaking GCSE exams to introduce the latest episode of our now almost monthly podcast rather than bimonthly. I don't have that much to say. I hope you enjoy it. And it is quite political. It covers quite a lot of different topics. And I really like the nuanced way how we're looking at it. So I hope you enjoy it. Thank you. So today on the pod, I have got two guests again, I've got oonagh and Karen from the Pram depot in wood green Welcome, and thank you for being here today.
Thanks for having us.
Thanks for having us.
Okay. So can you tell me a little bit - How did it start? How did the idea come about? Etc.
Okay, so it was me who set it up. I'm an artist or I was or I still am, but I don't practice the same as I did. And I was in Paris, at Palais de Tokyo, and I went to an exhibition by Christian Boltanski called Museum of childhood, which was a series of shelves in a room filled with I think they were his children's clothes from over the years. And it just really moved me and at that point, I didn't have any projects going on. So I thought, okay, my husband's office had been demolished, there was a whole load of shelving going for free. So I thought I'd recreate the similar thing, but as a place where people could bring stuff and take stuff. So it was a working piece of art sort of thing.
And when was that?
That was I think, about 12 years ago, 10 years ago, maybe I never know. It's quite a long time ago anyway. And I got a, I applied for a grant from the Arts Council and got 10,000 pounds, which actually paid for my studio. I stretched it out over two years. So it just covered the running cost of this space. And then it just worked really well. So and it grew from there.
Okay, Oonagh how did you get involved with it?
So I used to work for a charity called Birth companions that Karen was also a volunteer at,
I didn't mention that bit of the story. Yeah, I forgot to mention that. So I was a birth companion. At the time, I just joined an organization called Birth companions, and was training to be a birth companion. And that was where the need for the baby items came from. A lot of the women that we were supporting at the time, really needed baby items and had no way of accessing them. So I thought it'd be a good way for people to access stuff in a nice positive way where they felt like it was something different, you know, not just being given a carrier bag and stuff, actually being able to we did used to have people come and choose stuff. But that didn't last for long, because it got a bit too chaotic. And it was very time consuming. So we just ended up like trying to work out through with the women what they needed. And then we sort stuff out for them, they could come and collect it.
So yeah, so I started working for birth companions in 2018. And part of my job was to go to the the kind of community mom and baby groups and support with the running of that. And Karen used to come to that and bring items that women needed at the groups. And so we just met there and got on really well. And we sort of always wanted to work together. Yeah. And then in 2020,
I kept saying, Come and work at pram depot! Come and work at pram depot! (oonagh laughs)
in 2020, I'd already moved on to another job by that point. But Karen, kind of managed to get a bit of funding.
Yeah, after the two years of it being an art project. So did you slowly then move into - I don't know, is it officially a charity?
Yes, a CIC - Community Interest Company. And we chose to keep it as a CIC rather than charity so that we could be political with what we do as well. So we're not just about being a sticking plaster, we sort of want to look at what's going on and try and support people rather than take over from stuff that should be there in a statutory sense.
Yeah, when we say political, it's not. It's not party political. No, not campaigning for political parties. It means having like a systemic analysis of the problems that I'm being able to kind of speak up about that and speak up about where government is causing the problems that we're seeing. And to kind of have a bit more of a stronger stance on how we work, and how we see that kind of fitting into the overall systemic conditions that kind of causes poverty basically.
Okay, let's because normally the structure is - we're talking a bit about the connection to the area. So what is your connection to Wood Green? Haringey?
Well, I've lived in Haringey since I was 10. I currently live in Tottenham ( good good) And I have had a studio space or creative space in Wood Green for nearly 30 years, I was at the Chocolate Factory originally, when it was a squat. Back in the day when you could do stuff like that and get away with it. Then it was taken over by haringey Arts Council, which is now called collage arts. And we were moved out of the Chocolate Factory two or three years ago, because they're gentrifying the whole area. We're now in Clarendon yards, which was the old wood yard. And we've been here for nearly two years. Just before you arrived,
okay, yeah. So three,
three, nearly three years. And I think we've got another 18 months to two years left here,
the property development is at our door, you can probably hear, you might be able to hear the construction. So the flats that are ever being kind of built towards Alexandra Palace site, these sort of nice, fancy flats are being built and built and built and literally the construction site is in our car park - we used to have a car park it's now literally right up at the door. So it's almost like, you can see the gentrification, like coming in and seeing seeing this will be flattened and covered in flats, I'd imagine.
Oonagh, what about your connection to Haringey or Tottenham?
I've lived in Haringey since 2016. And I live in Wood Green now yeah, I did live in Tottenham for a bit. Yeah, Tottenham Hale. So yeah, I love working at Pram Depot, because it means I can I can work locally, and kind of be a bit more embedded in the community, like, I really love Wood Green. So it's nice just to be able to walk like 15 minutes to work. And Karen knows everyone. So it's really like, you really feel kind of part of the community working here.
So your project, is it unique within London?
when we first started, the word baby bank didn't exist. There was one baby bank. It's called stripy stalk in Surrey. And they base their work on an organization in America called twice loved. And I worked a bit with them to sort of work out what it is this sort of referral processing and all of that there are three or 400 Baby banks now, across the country.
Yeah, I was looking at your map earlier. Yeah. Because you can put something in "find your nearest", and it was like dotted with.
Yeah, so a lot of them are church based or synagogue based, or mosque based. But a lot of them are independent like us. As far as I know, we are the only one that's specializes in the baby box and supporting just pregnant women. And I think we are also the only baby bank that specializes in reaching women that aren't supported by anyone else. So a lot of the other baby banks are people on Universal Credit, people that need stuff, but because we're quite a small baby bank, we really wanted to specialize. It was actually during COVID that we started doing just the baby box. So we now do this emergency baby box, which is sort of based on the finnish baby box.
Okay, so what is the core things that you're doing at the moment? And who is your audience?
So we have three kind of services or three parts of our service. So one is the emergency baby boxes that are specially designed to safely sleep a baby, they come with a mattress and sheets and what we do is fill that full of really kind of everything that you need for the first three months of baby's life. So it's got sterilizer, sling, breast pump, pack of nappies, wet wipes, loads and loads of clothes, toiletries. Yeah. So kind of a little toiletry bag that you can take into hospital when you give birth with like - blankets towels like maternity pads, kind of all so it's really, really like totally full of stuff. So that's the main kind of service that we do and we deliver that - we send it kind of by courier and so for most people that will arrive about a month, six weeks before their due dates, they've got everything that they need to kind of kind of like feel calm about that before they go into hospital to give birth,
because you are only working through referral people cannot just come and get one. So who are the people that you're working with? Where are you getting your referrals from?
So we get the majority of our referrals from an organization called Happy Baby community, and really brilliant organization that do support for pregnant women and for mums who are seeking asylum. So they have a couple of really fantastic mum and baby groups. That kind of, you can come if you have children up to age five. So they're really like, yeah, brilliant, lovely groups, everyone brings their kids and sit down, have food and kind of support each other. So it's really they kind of like build a community of support for people. And they also do a bit more of the kind of one to one like support and accompanying people through pregnancy and early motherhood
and doulahing, they have - they pay doulas to be with the mom at birth, which is the same as birth companions. Actually, they do the same.
And so the majority of our referrals by quite a way come through happy baby, because they really support the women that we're trying to support as well. So that's women who are normally seeking asylum, no recourse to public funds. And so they don't have any recourse to public funds, which means they're banned from accessing things like Universal Credit, lots of state benefits, the sure start maternity grant, they're not allowed to access. And often people are kind of, people in that situation will be nervous about accessing health care, because in some situations, you can be billed for that, or is in some situations, the NHS might also report them to the home office, and that can end in deportation. So that's, it's mainly through happy baby, we do have about 15 other organizations that we support. And so that's various organizations that are coming into contact with or working with pregnant women who either have no recourse to public funds, escaping, fleeing domestic violence, or have recently left prison. So that's kind of the three Yeah, the three. sort of criteria,
the main organization that support women leaving prison is birth companions.
I was also going to ask you about the recycling aspect then. So how many of the items that you are giving out are recycled? Or how else are you getting stuff?
most of the clothes and most of toiletries come from recycling, so the clothes will come from people who donate them to us. We have a regular donation day on Tuesday between 10 and 4.30, in case anyone wants to come. And then we do the a large donation on the last Tuesday of the month, which covers all the other items, which we then give to Little Village. So we do a lot of recycling of baby items in Haringey. So the majority I would say, but we don't pass it all on ourselves personally. And the other thing that we do is we use an organization called in kind direct. And they basically are given stuff from cosmetic companies and other companies like Tiger and Milton, they, all of those sorts of companies donate stuff to them, and they distribute it at a small cost. So we pay, I think it's about 10% of the retail price. But it means that all of that stuff that we buy would have gone into landfill. I would say 50% of our box is recycled.
Yeah. Yeah. So probably about 50% donated items and 50% stuff we have to purchase, we have to buy new The other thing that we do, because we do have this dual mission of supporting vulnerable pregnant women and also trying to reduce waste.
So baby items have such a short use of life.
So the other thing we do is the big donation days on the last Tuesday of each month. And those are the days where people can bring lots of different items
carts, buggies, is Moses baskets,
toys, clothes for children up to five, all the stuff that we don't distribute. So we collect loads and those items on those days, we always have loads of stuff. And then we work with an organization called Little Village, which is a quite a large baby bank with lots of locations around London. And they basically come the next day with a van and pick it all up and then that gets distributed to families through them.
Because at the end of the day, you are called pram depot, but actually you're not ...
we do buggies we do buggies as well. Yeah, sorry but we keep some buggies for families that live in Haringey. So we used to do buggies pan London and women six weeks after they were giving birth because there's a sling in the box. We said okay, we'll just do it six weeks after the birth. Then the mom can come here and pick up a buggy if she still doesn't have one at that point. But that got really complicated because people couldn't - most of the women we were supporting were quite a long way away. So they were unable to get here, or they wouldn't turn up at the right time, we're quite hard to find. If you don't have English as your first language, it's really hard to navigate.
It's also the cost wasn't it? (just yeah), we would reimburse people for their for the travel, but even the upfront costs, because you only get a few, like, 40 quid a week from the home office. Or if you're in a hotel, you get like eight pounds a week or something like that. Yeah. So even the cost of getting here was too much. So we ended up kind of moving away from from doing that, and just doing it in Haringey.
Yeah, so any mum that lives in Haringey that we support, we offer them a buggy, if they don't have one,
But we had quite a lot of conversations about the name, though haven't we? really over the last year, because we have moved so much to the boxes.
And that happened during COVID, by the way, so we were doing a whole bunch of stuff, like we'd do like a cart, a Moses basket, buggy and all of the rest of it. And we had a van that we used to deliver to women to. But during COVID, it just became way, way too difficult. So and we had these a bunch of boxes sitting there, we contacted the company that had given them to us and said can we use them, and the company had folded in the UK, but we got we managed to get hold of the director, the managing director, and she gave us permission to use the boxes, and then actually gave us a whole load more. So we've got enough boxes now for the next two years, I think.
Hmmm yeah so the boxes, this was really something to kind of deal with the pandemic crisis because all the mom and baby groups shut down. So women were really isolated. And they also couldn't like a lot of the shops shut down a lot of the kind of like, the normal routes that you would go through to try and find stuff for cheap or, you know, get stuff through community groups.
And also people weren't allowed to donate for about two months. We couldn't have stuff dropped off. I was here on my own, like making up the boxes. Yeah, it was a really, really difficult time. But the boxes proved to be really, really loved by the moms, we got such good feedback about doing the boxes that we decided to change the way we work completely and just do the boxes,
Cause you find it kind of really put really like put people's minds at rest, just getting one box, it's got everything it gets delivered straight to your house or wherever you're living.
And it's in a bag. So you take the box out of the bag, put everything into the bag, and then you've got the bed ready, and you put this bag full of stuff that they need.
Do you remember, like were you involved at all delivering your first baby box? I just wonder
I used to deliver them by hand during the pandemic.
Do you remember your first one?
oh, that first I just remembered. The first one was in a hotel. I won't say which hotel. But I got there. And the security guard insisted it was right in the middle of the pandemic. And the security guard insisted on getting in a lift with me. And he was also looking in the box and touching it. And then we had toilet paper in there at that point because the loo rolls toilet paper was really short. There was a shortage of it. And he took the toilet rolls out and said can I have those? And I was like no, you can't - put it back. And it was just a horrible. It was. I was actually quite terrified thinking I'm gonna get COVID and die.
It was in that period before any, there was no guidance or no working practices, you know? Yeah, no masks, no, kind of like cleaning of yeah,
let's counter this with the happiest memory so far.
The happiest memory. Oh, just whenever I take a box to a mum, and they open it when I'm there. They're always so happy and so delighted with it. I think the best time was when we had vouchers. We had 100 pound gift vouchers to get to people as well. And that was just that was the best.
That was really nice, wasn't it? Because we were - it was it was through this the Haringey household Support Fund just kind of a cost of living community like crisis sort of little plug. Yeah. So we had, we bought these Tesco gift cards just to give out to people to get them through a bit of the winter. And it was yeah, it was really nice to see people because it was often people who we'd already given a box to so then we also see the baby.
And get to hear a bit about how they found the box. And because we don't usually get to see the women. No at all, but especially after they've kind of had the box and the baby's grown up a little bit. Yeah, it was lovely.
That's what was nice about the Mum and baby groups.
Okay, so what are your plans? Do you have any plans? How do you feel you want to go next?
Well, we have to find somewhere new. Yeah. To operate from.
(Okay. ) Yeah. So at some point in the next couple of years, we'll have to move premises. So that's a big thing that we're looking at at the moment. That's where we go. And how are we going to pay for it?
Yeah, I mean, one of the things that's really important to us as an organization is that we are in a building that has other organizations within it, because when - it sounds bad, but we actually use, we use that quite a lot, or you rely on our community a lot. Yeah. Like, for example, here, there's a vegan cheese factory. And they provide all the boxes for our mini baby box, which is another aspect of what we do
We should shout them out, they are called honestly tasty honestly tasty, fantastic vegan cheese.
Yeah, we do top tips later, you can ...
They support pram depot with a Yeah, with quite a lot of boxes, free boxes. For our smaller we do some kind of smaller mini baby baby boxes for people in certain types of accommodation.
So but you said it's like through collage arts are they not also gonna have to find, like a new location?
So they support us. But part of the I think it's part of all the construction that's going on. There is a building that's being built for artists. But because we're not artists, I don't know if we will be able to go in that building.
You kind of more providing things. I was like, oh, maybe running art workshops with some of these moms. But maybe that's not their priority is it? After they just had a baby.
It's not really so most of the moms that we support are, don't have family or friends don't have a partner in the country. Some people do. But most people don't. They they're living in home office accommodation. That's right on the outskirts of London, they are living on home office payments, which are meager, and they're having to feed themselves, feed their children, like pay for all of their transport. So people are really, really in that kind of crisis moment. So it's
And also they just had a newborn baby. Yeah. So the last thing they're going to be thinking about
who they are caring for alone on top of dealing with asylum claims, going to meetings at the home office, facing the threat of deportation facing threat of detention. So it's kind of it's not the time for that kind of work. But we have been -one of the things we have been thinking about is looking at more kind of like ways to talk about these issues and talk about reuse and recycling and reduction of waste using kind of our methods. So it is something that yeah, we've been thinking about if that's something we could run we did a really lovely little morning with Alexander Primary School recently, as part of this carbon Go Green Project, which collage arts were running - the children from the primary school came into pram depot and like learned a bit about how it runs and what we do to kind of help make Haringey a greener borough.
And they made a gorgeous film. Yeah, it's very lovely, isn't it?
You can find it on college voices, Instagram or YouTube. (Okay) But yeah, so that got us thinking about maybe we could do some more kind of art workshops with local schools and things like that. A few years ago, Karen ran an event called Spotlight on asylum.
Yeah. That was an art installation in the Karamel. It was basically washing lines going across the restaurant. And it had a piece of clothing that represented each child we'd supported that year. And we ran a whole series of events. We did an auction, an art auction, where we got 120 artists to donate a piece of art, which was postcard size. We did an exhibition of that art. And we got some quite famous artists that Anthony Gormley and Tracy Emin to do a piece for us. And we did a comedy night called stand up for asylum or stand up to - I always get that wrong, because I'm dyslexic ( for asylum not to), where we had some really great comedians come down
you did panel talks with like campaigners, and politicians. I think we had a film weekend. Yeah. And he worked also with people who had experienced the asylum system.
Those stories? Yeah, we had a night a night of spoken word, where I think it was 15 women told us their stories, and gave us permission to give those stories to spoken word workshop. And they read the stories and then wrote their own personalized pieces about the stories and performed it. And that was, that was a great night. Yeah, so we did this festival over two months, and we got all the local politicians involved, we've got, yeah, we've got a lot of people involved in it. And we raised, I think it was 85,000 pounds.
you know, with the cost of living crisis, etc. have you seen a change?
it is connected. So in a way, the kind of women, we support the people who have no recourse to public funds and who are kind of living on those government payments were, you know, were already facing a cost of living crisis kind of before all this happened. But it certainly makes things more difficult for them,
because they're being scapegoated. Now, in this situation, isn't it as the most vulnerable?
It's their vulnerability that really concerns me,
but also what we're seeing is like to avoid having that conversation to deflect away from like the public anger around the cost of living crisis, we're seeing even more scapegoating, like even more racism towards asylum seekers and refugees. Yeah, and the kind of the government response has really been, you're seeing this deliberate creation of chaos in the immigration system. So this kind of like shipping people out to random hotels across the country, making things less organized, less well functioning, more chaotic, to kind of generate this crisis and put the spotlight on,
it's harder to find the women that need the support for the organizations that we're working with. People like happy baby have to be really proactive, and actually send volunteers into the hotels to find the women, because they're being stopped from doing that.
But we've also as an organization, we are impacted by the cost of living crisis. So we are seeing like the price of some of the baby items that we have to buy go up. Yeah, we've seen a big drop in kind of the donations that we get from the public, because people just cannot afford any more to have like a direct debit going to Pram Depot. So we're having to get more creative about the way that we raise money.
Yeah, we used to raise about 7/800 pounds a month, and it's now around 400.
So we now we rely a lot more on grant funding, which takes up a lot of time, like doing those applications, building those relationships with funders, and also because of the cost of living crisis, the competition for those grants is so much higher, so they're getting so many more applications. So we're certainly seeing an impact there. Yeah,
feeling the impact as an organization. Yeah.
And what about like, the actual items? Do people still donate? Or are people maybe also more - oh we're gonna keep it,
the quality of the items has gone down. And so we used to get, probably 50, or 60% of the donated items would be used and washed once or twice. So really, really good condition. A lot of the baby grows and stuff like that, that we're getting have been obviously used with two children or three children. So we're having to recycle a lot of that stuff. So anything that we don't give away because it's stained, or it's not in good enough condition, we pass on to the recycling center, in Haringey, and they have a really good recycling for fabric, which is they take everything, wash it anything that they can give away, gets given away, and then anything that's not is pulped and used for furniture stuffing.
That's an interesting one, isn't it? Because it's hard to know whether it's cost a living crisis, or people becoming more aware around their consumption habits. Yeah. And in a way if we're getting fewer donations of like new stuff, it's good for the planet. It's good that people aren't kind of buying all that stuff, but it obviously, it impacts our organisation as well.
We want to give our boxes as a gift and not as a handout. So we really try and put stuff in that the mom is going to be really happy for their baby to be in but I also think that we are two years on from the lockdown and when the shops were shut. And I think people did a lot less consuming during that time. (Yeah, yeah.) Because people couldn't go to Mothercare and boots and buy the baby clothes
but buy it online?
So people were buying stuff online but not as much
and they also weren't seeing their family and friends before having the baby so they weren't having all the gifts and the baby shower. No, it wasn't quite so much. It's yeah, it's hard to know whether it's cost of living, changing habits knock on effect or the pandemic it's probably all three.
Yeah, I'd say it's all three
It will be a little while I think until we can kind of untangle the patterns there.
Okay, so let's get to the third part. Now both of you have experiences of Tottenham and we already had our first top tip - take it away: What are your top tips? Tottenham or Haringey
Top Tips Tottenham. Okay, so,
I guess just in our location, there's obviously the vegan cheese honestly tasty fantastic. There's the brewery next door to us. Yeah, goodness brewery in Wood Green. Yeah. I'm gluten free and all their beer is gluten free. So I'm a big fan of the brewery
Oh, I should say, pram depot has a Dropbox in Tottenham so if you can't make it to our Tuesday, donation day. Baby items can be put in our Dropbox in Downhills Park Road, I won't give the address but people can contact us to get the address.
I guess this is not really a top tip about something like places to visit and Haringey but we we have worked over the last year a bit with the Holy Trinity Church, you have a food bank and just do really brilliant work. So that's the Holy Trinity Church that's on Phillip lane. Yeah. So yeah, shout out for some of our friends in Tottenham.
So they're running a food bank?
Yeah, they are amazing.
Yeah. Great place to donate to if you want to sort of donate. They support a lot of people in the area.
Yeah. Nere's cafe in Downhills Park, shout out to Nere. She's a really good community person who supports pram depot. Where do I go to relax? Oh, the Westbury pub that's on Westbury Avenue. That's a great pub. It's got a nice outdoor area, the Palm but that's for people with children because it's like a nursery school and it's full of people with babies, which is great. I love babies don't get me wrong. Sometimes I like to relax, that there's not a lot of screaming going.
I don't do a lot of stuff to be honest.
I mean, I guess collage Arts is always a place to look at. They run loads of Music Nights. They run great, like school holiday projects for young people. And they also have loads of artists musician.
Yeah they do lots Saturday clubs and stuff like that. Yeah, open studio event once a year, usually in November. So they have a big open studios. So in Tottenham, you've got Bruce Castle Park, which is amazing. And the Bruce Castle Museum. Me and my husband actually got married there in the tower next to their museum.
I think they managed to get some funding to have the tower refurbished or something. I think they are so
yeah, it was very old and damp when we got married. (so romantic)
How many years ago was it?
Well, we've actually been together for 14 years, but it was only eight years. or less than that five years ago. I think. Of course there's the Bernie grant center. They do really good stuff there. Of course, there's that lovely little pub that we went to opposite the swimming pool. That used to be public toilet.
Oh, yeah what is that called?
The High Cross
Yeah, that's really nice. The Beehive as well.
Great, lovely, really great Italian restaurant as well. By Bruce Grove station
yeah. Yeah. And then of course, you've got green lanes and all the wonderful Turkish restaurants down there we go there a lot.
Do you have a favorite? I like gokyuzu. It's my favorite
We like devran. The one opposite.
Nice. We always go to Hala. Yeah summer in Haringey is just fun.
Yeah, because there's the Trove markets as well. Oh, todswap. They support us! Yeah, they're great.
Yeah, was it todswap that used to do the like story days. Lovely storytelling days for young kids. And they would donate the ticket proceeds to us
So a big shout out for them. Yeah. And they also sell she calls them nursery clothes. They just clothes parents don't mind the kids getting messed up with paint and stuff. And the proceeds for those come to pram depot. Okay. Yeah, big shout out to todswap.
Okay, then, so thank you very much for this interview.
Thank you. Yes.
Okay, so we had a ton of top tips, as usual, I'm going to write them up and with links and everything on the website. Also, I can really recommend their Instagram and also the website is super cute. So I will link both of them in the show notes. Alright. So let's see when we are going to speak again. I think I'm gonna do one more top tips for July. And then I'm gonna take August off, gonna record a bunch of episodes and then we're back on track for September. Okay, so I hope you have a lovely summer. And I will speak to you again in September. Bye bye. I hope you enjoyed today's episode, learned something new. And let that Tottenham love grow. Take care. And until next time, bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai