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Words by Raekha Prasad

Stokey playgroup celebrates being powered by parents for 40 years


Dozens of Hackney families celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of the longest running playgroups in the borough on Sunday July 10th.


A street party organized by the parents of children at Sandbrook Playgroup, brought three generations of families together in a seventies-themed event to laud the achievements of the founders, who set out to provide affordable childcare to working families four decades ago.


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


More than 200 Stoke Newington residents joined together on Sandbrook Road to recreate the fashions, food and street games of the era. Revelers, including present and past attendees of the playgroup, were dressed in 1970s fashions.


Children celebrated by playing pavement games popular during the playgroup’s early years such as hoola hooping, skipping and chalking on the pavements.


There was also a 40th birthday cake competition with prizes for the most inventive child and adult bakers.


Suzanne Cotton, whose youngest daughter is currently at the playgroup, attended Sandbrook herself in the mid-80s. “ I remember being really happy there – making friends and playing in the garden. That’s why I wanted my three children to go there: to have the same experience I had.”


The playgroup has been run for 40 years from the Victorian two-storey terraced house on Sandbrook Road after its founding members campaigned for Hackney Council to provide suitable premises. It still operates only because parents are involved in the running of the playgroup.


Vanessa Linehan, the current manager at Sandbrook, said: “The Hackney parents who founded Sandbrook Community Playgroup should be extremely proud that four decades later it is still going strong and is still led by Hackney parents. Hundreds of local children have passed through our door and we now have a child attending whose mother and auntie came to the playgroup too.”


Sandbrook sprang out of a local campaign for better childcare. Recognising that “lonely mums” were often marooned at home with children, campaigners set up community playgroups for local people.


The parent-run playgroups aimed to mix education and childcare for the under-fives, for which in the 1970s there was very little local provision unless children were known to social services.  At the time in Hackney less than 15% of under-fives got council-backed care.


Sandbrook was started in a church hall by a group of local mothers in 1972 in response to this lack of childcare and play settings for under-5s. The playgroup moved to a prefab hut on the street a year later.  When the council’s plans to redevelop the area involved tearing down the hut, the mothers fought for Hackney to give the playgroup a new home.


By 1975 the council had agreed for the playgroup to have the derelict house on low rent and gave it £6,000 to convert it for use for under-5s. 


“This wasn’t nearly enough so we raised the rest ourselves by organizing gigs and discos in the hut and having lots of jumble sales, “ said Liz Vernon, one of the mothers involved in the campaign. In 1976, the playgroup started operating from the house. “The playgroup was very mixed – multi-racial and mixed across class.”


Larraine Worpole, a 73-year-old photographer who was one of the founding members of the playgroup and who still lives in Stoke Newington, said: “it is so wonderful to know that the playgroup is still there and still thriving.”


Sandbrook’s success in the 1970s made headlines and the playgroup was featured on the flagship London television news programme, Today. Worpole told an interviewer: “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”.


Worpole recalled that it was the local authority cash that made the project possible. Hackney, she said, was a working class area and many of the mothers had jobs.  


“Obviously we wouldn’t have been able to have got the playgroup going without that sort of help. We wouldn’t have had the time to raise the money”.

Colour photos above are courtesy of 

Malgorzata Jarema. 

Sandbrook Playgroup in the early 1970s

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