An Angel In Our Midst

We already have what we need we just need to redistribute it

The inspirational Little Village (a foodbank, but for clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children) founder, Sophia Parker has witnessed at first hand the truth that we already have what we need we just need to release it. Or in this case, redistribute it.

I had been drawn to Sophia’s story as a brilliant example of grassroots hero; someone who, with a clear purpose had taken small key steps to grow her idea into a workable model, mobilizing others to help achieve impact far beyond initial expectations.

I met Sophia in the Little Village HQ, in a church hall in Balham. I was a little early so her colleagues invited me to wait with them while they continued to sift through a vast mound of clothes and baby paraphernalia. Nothing had quite prepared me for the sheer scale of the realisation of her vision, the mountain of contributions being made and distributed, spoke of both the huge well of need tapped into, and the desire of many families to respond.  

The high ceilinged room was shelved floor to ceiling, each shelf housing a line of boxes, organized into age group, and filled to the brim with neatly folded rainbow of clothes, clean and ready for distribution.  The volunteers worked on a long wooden refectory style table surrounded by a line up of ready-to-serve prams and pushchairs primed and ready for action. There were baby baths, toys, blankets, moses baskets, cribs and gift boxes filled with vital basics, beautifully presented and chosen with care, transforming the church hall into a dynamic hub  for fighting family poverty and inequality from the grassroots up. I was stunned.

A transaction of kindness

The room was testimony to the fact that not only is there clear and desperate need for this transaction between families  but an overwhelming willingness to respond to that need. In this, Little Village reveals the power of a community to take care of each other, if given the right support and conditions to do so, and in a way no government or local authority would have the power or connection to deliver.      

In common with many grassroots innovator stories, Little Village was a personal reaction to an everyday problem. Sophia’s desire to put her daughters old clothes and baby stuff to good use,  began with reaching out and asking some simple but vital questions of the community to establish need, opportunity and explore logistics. Her questions quickly revealed the same desire in many other families, whilst simultaneously exposing the scale of the need for hundreds of desperate families.

Since its launch in Wandsworth in 2016, Little Village has helped 2,484 families, 2474 children and worked with over 196 volunteers. It’s accepted over £1.3m worth of gifts and has recently launched two new sites in London, Camden and soon to be Southwark. From the beginning Sophia has been determined that Little Village honours families on both sides of the transactions, insisting that any item of clothing, toy or equipment be clean and ready to use.  This is not a dumping ground for chewed up, broken or dirty baby left-overs. The tone of the organisation, it’s deep rooted culture, is set by its strapline – “A gift to your family from ours” making this less about hand-out’s and more about an open transaction of kindness.

There is clear recognition of the deep and natural bond that exists between all parents and carers, all  of whom want the best for their children; it’s often only the lack of funds, or access to support that derails hope and undermines ambition.  Access to the Little Village service is purposely made as easy and stress free as possible. Once referred, there is a simple form to fill in and once through the doors there are no more forms, and no dragonian front-of-desk staff to negotiate.  All who enter are respected, welcomed and given warm reception. Staff are all trained, supportive, open and friendly, very quickly Little Village has become a place where adults and children feel safe and welcomed. No one is made to feel ‘less-than’, and the pervading sense is that ‘we are all united in parenthood here’. There is little distinction between those who receive help, and those who support, and so nurturing is the environment that many of those who are first there for help go on to become volunteers themselves.  

The power of a connecting purpose

Sophia recognises that there are wider needs now being met by Little Village. Needs that are often neglected but which can benefit all; the need to feel valued, connected and of belonging.  For those that work there, providing something that really matters and making a tangible difference has a huge positive impact, and everyone involved enjoys the circular support network that has grown around this incredible organisation.  As all our grassroot heroes have shown, the benefits of simple kindness when expressed through a connecting purpose are extraordinary in producing highly effective, productive and sustainable grassroot organisations.

The success of these organisations are trailblazing a new approach to organizational development, encouraging more effective business cultures to develop.  Lessons we need now more than ever.

Little Village has created the prime conditions to bring the very best in human nature to surface and thus the prime conditions for success.   A space where exhausted, fragile, vulnerable people can find sanctuary and acceptance, where kindness is the purpose that can begin to repair and restore people’s confidence and sense of possibility to such a degree that the needy transform to be the needed and everyone involved feels a sense of power and purpose, that brings a wealth of reward and fulfilment.

Sophia has shone a light on the absurdity of the over-abundance that we live in and around.  The stark glare of contrast between those that have more than they need, and those that have nothing;  but perhaps most revealing is the equality of need discovered in everyone, and being met through a greater sense of being valued, and belonging.   A story that exposes the good in people and how, by bringing out the best in people, we can all achieve far far more than we might have anticipated.   

Sophia has shown the alchemy of how starting small, fulfilling a specific need can create community relationships that support, inspire and achieve real change from the grassroots up.