The researchers were inspired to act when preliminary data from an ongoing study into the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on early development showed that babies and toddlers from disadvantaged backgrounds missed out on outside play during the spring 2020 lockdown. Dr Alex Hendry from the University of Oxford came up with the fundraising idea and contacted Home-Start Oxford to see what she and her colleagues could do to help.
Dr Hendry said, ‘Outdoor play is hugely important for early development. Exercising and exploring in the fresh air helps to promote thinking skills, and is key to good mental and physical health. When playgrounds and many other communal spaces were shut last spring, families without their own garden had limited options. This winter it looks like playgrounds and parks will stay open, but instead, families who are struggling financially are facing other barriers to outdoor play. Finding the extra cash for warm outdoor children’s clothes is difficult when money is tight – especially when you know they’ll have outgrown it by next year.
‘Lockdown restrictions also mean that most of the usual ways for parents to build and maintain support networks are unavailable. In this period of heightened isolation and stress, meeting up with another parent outside whilst little ones play has never been so important. We wanted to do something practical to help families make the most of the outdoors this winter.’
Home-Start Oxford has been supporting young families in the local area for over 30 years. Through a team of trained local volunteers, Home-Start provides emotional and practical support to young families who are going through tough times. The team at Home-Start Oxford is there for parents when they need help most, and strives to make the early years count – so no child’s future is limited.
Katharine Barber, CEO of Home-Start Oxford said, ‘We are thrilled by the generosity of Alex, the research team and friends, who were determined to make sure their findings led to real change for local families. Many of the parents we support were already struggling with isolation and loneliness before the pandemic, and we have seen this hugely increase. The wet weather suits will enable parents to get out with their young children and meet people in a socially-distanced way, whatever the weather, as well as helping ensure that their young children have the play opportunities that are so vital to their development.’
After talking to parents, the Home-Start team were well aware that an important barrier to outdoor play is not having the kit to wrap little ones up warm and dry so they leaped at the offer of a donation of outdoor weather gear. Importantly, they already knew many families who would benefit and were able to include the rain-sets in their regular doorstep drops, along with an Outdoor Mini-Adventures ideas sheet developed by the research team. Wales-based business Wet Wednesdays agreed to provide the rain sets at a large discount, meaning that the money raised was enough to equip 70 families.
Georgia Williams from Wet Wednesdays commented, ‘Our mission at Wet Wednesdays is to provide high quality outdoor clothing that children can play and learn in no matter what the weather. We believe that every child should be able to access nature’s playground, and we are delighted to support this wonderful initiative.’
Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez from the Oxford Brookes University, who leads the Social Distancing Study that inspired the campaign said, ‘We are currently collecting data that will help us to understand the impacts of lockdown on early development, and we are sharing this data with policymakers as it becomes available. Already, our early findings are showing that disadvantaged families are being hit hardest so we wanted to do something practical to help families now.
‘The main reason we do developmental research is to aim to help children thrive, so I knew my colleagues would want to help – but I was blown away by how quickly and generously they responded. Our community is so important to us – without them, we wouldn’t be able to continue our work at the Oxford BabyLab and Oxford Brookes Babylab. This is our way of saying thank you.’