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‘Parent power’: Radical Stoke Newington nursery Sandbrook is going strong, 40 years on

PUBLISHED: 13:01 18 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:01 18 July 2016

The 40th anniversary celebration party at Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Malgorzata Jarema)

The 40th anniversary celebration party at Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Malgorzata Jarema)

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Parents and tots at Sandbrook Nursery are celebrating 40 years since it moved into its Stoke Newington home. Reporter Emma Bartholomew looks back at its roots.

Puppet show at the Sandbrook Playgroup in WRVS hut, 1974  (Photo: Larraine Worpole) Puppet show at the Sandbrook Playgroup in WRVS hut, 1974 (Photo: Larraine Worpole)

“We were all so desperate. The local playgroup was full up with a long waiting list, so we said: ‘Let’s try and start our own’.”

Larraine Worpole – now a 73-year-old photographer – said these words on London TV news show Today in the 1970s.

Last week, three generations of families came together for a ’70s-themed event to laud the achievements of the founders of Sandbrook, who set out to provide affordable childcare to working families four decades ago.

"They were happy days for us all. You didn’t feel you were on your own. There were like minded people around who got involved, and it’s very good to know that continues."

Larraine Worpole

The community playgroup was considered part of a wave of new thinking around childcare, which saw working mothers in the community band together to provide services where the state did not.

In the 1970s there was very little local provision unless children were known to social services – so a group of Stokey mums set up Sandbrook in a church hall in Sandbrook Road in 1972.

But they already had their eye on the unused housing that was all over the borough.

The 40th anniversary celebration party at Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Malgorzata Jarema) The 40th anniversary celebration party at Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Malgorzata Jarema)

“We had to lug all the equipment in this church hall up to the top floor,” Larraine told the Gazette. “It was doing our backs in.

“We saw these empty houses in Hackney – there were thousands of them at the time.

“When I went on TV I was making the point that there were empty houses that were boarded up and that playgroups were really important for all sorts of reasons, to provide a place where parents and children could come and meet each other.”

Youngsters at Sandbrook Nursery when it first opened (Photo: Larraine Worpole) Youngsters at Sandbrook Nursery when it first opened (Photo: Larraine Worpole)

The parent-run playgroup moved to a prefab hut on the street a year later that had a “carpentry corner and a theatre group”.

When the council’s plans to redevelop the area involved tearing down the hut, the mothers fought for Hackney Council to give the playgroup a new home.

They took notice, and by 1975 agreed for the playgroup to have a derelict Victorian two-storey terraced house in Sandbrook Road – where it remains today – on low rent. The town hall even gave the group £6,000 to convert it for use by under-fives.

Larraine Worpole outside Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Sophie Polyviou) Larraine Worpole outside Sandbrook Nursery (Photo: Sophie Polyviou)

The playground raised the rest of the money by organising gigs and discos in the hut – and holding lots of jumble sales.

“Obviously we wouldn’t have been able to have got the playgroup going without the council’s help,” recalls Larraine, who still lives in Stoke Newington. “We wouldn’t have had the time to raise the money.”

The group was influential and also campaigned for many women’s issues – the first being for fathers to be able to attend births at Hackney Hospital.

Christmas party at St Matthias Church Hall, 1972 (Photo: Larraine Worpole) Christmas party at St Matthias Church Hall, 1972 (Photo: Larraine Worpole)

When they realised some of the parents were “living in the most appalling rental conditions”, they encouraged one family with several children to squat one of the many empty houses.

“We got involved in various things in the community we shouldn’t have done but we were all idealistic,” recalls Larraine.

“At the time women’s liberation was just emerging, the second stage of it. It was an exciting time and an optimistic time.

Christmas party at St Matthias Church Hall, 1972 (Photo: Larraine Worpole) Christmas party at St Matthias Church Hall, 1972 (Photo: Larraine Worpole)

“You felt that you could help to make some changes, and it wasn’t through being in the Labour Party or any other party – it was by working with other people and giving evidence of how this was affecting people.”

Today, Sandbrook has a long waiting list. “Certainly, to know the Sandbrook playgroup is very much thriving is so great – that they have kept the spirit,” adds Larraine.

“They were happy days for us all. You didn’t feel you were on your own. There were like minded people around who got involved, and it’s very good to know that continues.”

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