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Local children’s group aims to reach 1,000 vulnerable people: almost there! Please join them.

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PURPLE Elephant, organisers of the Frome Children’s Festival, Frome Toy Library, half term and Holiday Activities, Sports Festival and Frome Christmas Party have now provided almost 700 activity packs and play items free to local, vulnerable children since the start of lockdown. Can you help them reach a thousand?

As one of the organisations quick to turn around from their usually heavily-peopled events to find new, safe ways to meet the needs of some of Somerset’s most vulnerable families, Purple Elephant is a vital part of Frome’s support for families under pressure.

As the most recent government advice is still to continue with social distancing this means the majority of families will still be home-schooling for some time and looking for interesting things to do at home, in lieu of meeting up with friends or going to group activities, especially those who need to self-isolate.

In a remarkable turnaround from their usual close contact community work, Purple Elephant teamed up with other organisations to respond remotely to the needs of families facing tough challenges. Amalgamating the small amount of unspent funding budget, all existing available arts and crafts materials not required for cancelled events and any unallocated toys plus generous local gifts, the company has been able to deliver over 680 different activity packs and play items.  It is aiming for a total of 1,000.

The recipients of these free, creative, non-screen toys have all been local vulnerable families contacted through Children’s Social Care and Intervention workers, school family support workers and housing associations as well as via schools and Fair Frome who have been safely distributing the resources while they hand out free school meals and family food-bank parcels.

Resources include craft activity packs, sports equipment, colouring books, family board and card games, story books, gardening and nature kits and activities for children with additional needs.  The hand-made, specially compiled creative activity packs are delivered as a complete set with all the items a child needs, including glue and instructions, to make, for themselves, such delights as flower-fairy wands, multi-sensory blocks, rainsticks, puffer fish pictures and seedsboxes with bells.  Grants to assist this remarkable feat have come from Frome Town Council, Somerset County Disabilities team, Live West Housing Association and Somerset Community Foundation.

Many items were bought with £815 donated by the public through a dedicated website and a Local Giving fund, including toys gifted via the company’s online ‘Wish-List’ which allows people to selected a more traditional toy and have it sent directly to Purple Elephant.  Frome people and businesses have kindly donated, including Kevin Corcoran Carpets who gave six rugs for a family who have no carpets (just concrete floor), special needs and are having to self-isolate.

Tracey Ashford

As newly-appointed director, Tracey Ashford, explains “It is sad that the Toy Library can’t be the universal service it normally is and that our activities can’t happen but to continue to find ways to help within our community was all we really wanted.  Everyone has been pulling together; our response to the pressure-cooker effect in homes without enough money, limited access to tablets and laptops, cramped living-space and the behavioural challenges that can accompany children with additional-needs simply had to be to do whatever we could.

“We are not claiming to work miracles but, as a team, we couldn’t read about such things as the rise in domestic violence without working out what we could offer to make life a bit easier and calmer.  Play is so important; play for children but also with children.  Our main concern was how to distribute the resources but, as is so often the way in this town, wonderful Fair Frome have been instrumental in the success of the project, so far.”

As the current restrictions remain in place Purple Elephant are reaching out again to ask the people of the South West to offer donations to the fund, whilst looking towards how things may start to ease in the summer.  The company usually offer a number of either free or very low cost activities during all school holidays but as the ruling for interaction is still limited it cannot offer any firm commitments about what play will be available this summer, yet. The organisers are keen to stress that the main priority has to be to keep families safe while supporting them but that as the government makes its updated announcements each week they will respond accordingly.

Before the arrival of Covid 19, non-profit organisation Purple Elephant volunteers were lending up to 50 different Toy Library play-sacks to local families, running stay-and-play sessions each week and planning for up to 2,000 people to join Gen-Z, the town’s annual totally free Frome Children’s festival, which was due to happen in June.  Sadly, safety rules have put a stop to the play sessions, half-term and school holiday activities and of course for the grand festival which was scheduled to run, for free, all day from the Cheese and Grain, all the way along the river and into Welshmill Park.

Tracey Ashford concludes “Once lockdown is over some families will need space away from their children, others will need ‘healing time’ to play together. We, along with other providers in the town, are hoping to be able to offer some summer fun but it is too early to say what.  Sadly, The Children’s Festival/Gen-Z can’t happen this year but we will be back better than ever in 2021. In the meantime, we want to ask anyone, who is able, to donate a small amount of money or a toy so that we can continue with the work for the next few weeks.”

If you can offer a donation or are a company looking to sponsor the ongoing, vital work of The Toy Library and its associated organisations you can get in touch via the website where links are shown to all giving/donation options or via email; details can be found at www.fromechildrensfestival.org

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