The Hug has been running since spring of 2019 at the Gascoigne Children’s Centre and was founded by Dr. Valeria Giannuzzi, a researcher and specialist in clinical and community psychology, after becoming a mother herself. She and her colleague Almudena Segura, a community facilitator and special need assistant teacher, created The Hug, a safe space for parents where they provide emotional and practical support, events, and signpost to services.
They had started with only a handful of mums that they met while out and about, but this quickly grew and a WhatsApp Group sprung up where they could exchange parenting tips and comforting words. Their numbers had grown to 75 in less than six months and demand for the group was constant so Valeria and Almudena knew that they needed to look for support.
Following a chance conversation at the Boathouse Café and Bar, The Hug was referred into us by Alison of BD_Collective at the end of last year. I met with Valeria, Almudena, and their babies at the Boathouse and they told me about their ideas, what they wanted to do and how they thought we could help.
I was only a few months into this job, and we hadn’t agreed a way forward for our funding so Valeria and Almu asked if there was any formal support that I could offer to them. My background is in editing, as well as social and digital media so we looked at ways I could use these skills to help them – they needed a logo and a fundraising video and a fresh pair of eyes on some of their applications.
Working together, we designed a logo for The Hug (seen above!) and they shot footage of their group for me to edit into a video. They also asked if I could come and teach them and some of the mums in the group about how to use social media professionally so that they could raise awareness of The Hug and the needs of its members. We ran the workshop at the Children’s Centre, so that the babies had things to keep them occupied – it was a two-hour session but I think if I was to run it again, I would do it as two one-hour sessions to better accommodate for babies!
With their children approaching nursery age, both of them were looking towards getting back to work and wanted to see if The Hug was a way for them to do that, rather than wind down their work. Between them, Valeria and Almudena worked out that they were probably doing about 20-hours of unpaid work a week managing The Hug. They were one of the first to apply for our time-based grants, which are intended to give people the space they need to push their ideas forward. They wanted to see what they might be able to achieve with six months of funding, and the grant was awarded so that they could test this out.
All of this was done through conversation – in-person, on the phone, by email, and over WhatsApp. In describing her experience with our process, Almudena said she felt that ‘conversations are the best way to understand ideas and get people working together to understand both parties’.
Before the crisis, The Hug had been exploring ways they might be able to help families across the borough, not just the ones that had access to the Gascoigne Children’s Centre. With the lockdown, their meetings couldn’t continue but the needs of their members only increased, with a lot of unease and uncertainty coming through on their WhatsApp group. Working with a friend, they started to develop World At Home, where you can find simple, straightforward and parent-tested ideas for activities and tips to do at home with your children during lockdown.
Barking & Dagenham Renew trusts that communities know what is best for them, which means we will be flexible on funding when circumstances change – in response to the crisis, we completely removed restrictions on funding we had already committed to give, including to The Hug, as it was clear that there was still work being done. It is undoubtedly going to change our outcomes and expectations but we will also learn a lot from our communities during this time.
We exist as a small seed funder, so it’s always our hope that ideas we fund will outgrow us. That’s why we were delighted when The Hug told us that they had been awarded £9,299 by the Lottery Community Fund to develop their website further and explore ways they could continue to offer support to their members through the current crisis.
If what you’ve read here has sparked an idea for something you could do with your community, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org