In November 1996, Daniel’s Den opened its doors for the very first time in a little community centre in Wembley, in the shadow of the old Wembley Stadium.
It was the birth of a baby that changed everything for our founder Jo Gordon, and she realised that there were no spaces to meet other new parents in her community. With all her friends and family at work or not close by, she felt that loneliness and isolation that new parents often feel. She wanted herself and her son to know and be known in the local community.
As a primary school teacher, Jo had been shocked to hear parents asking her to ‘give their child some manners’ and felt that supporting parents and children before they come to school was so vital. How about creating a space for this to happen?
That’s when Daniel’s Den started and this local parent and toddler group offered a safe welcoming space for babies, toddlers and their parents and carers to come and play, share, make new friends and build community. A basic structure with simple play activities, donated toys, crafts, singing etc was a winning formula.
This was the start of something big. The demand grew and extra sessions were put on and then new venues opened as the need for somewhere within walking distance was recognised. We now have 10 venues running 11 toddler groups a week, as well as a monthly session for dads and a group held on an allotment during the summer months.
Running a toddler group is hard work and often misunderstood and after visiting a conference in Tunbridge Wells where toddler group leaders met to encourage one another, we were inspired to start the Brent Parent and Toddler Group in 2006. This gave the opportunity for toddler group leaders from across the London Borough of Brent to meet and share their joys and challenges and pray. Training was organised through seminars and conferences and toddler group leaders in surrounding boroughs joined in. This has grown into the London Network of Parent and Toddler groups and is seeking to build support networks in each of the 32 London boroughs.
Over the years we have benefited from a wide range of volunteers, and through this opportunity many of our volunteers have gone on to find jobs etc. The charity achieved so much with so little for so long and receiving funding from the National Lottery in 2020 was a pivotal point, as this new income stream enabled us to strategically develop our team and infrastructure. The Pandemic meant that all our in-person groups closed but our outreach was catapulted online and into homes through the provision of craft packs and Zoom sessions.
The value of toddler groups is immense – for the children, their parents/carers and the volunteers. Our local MP described Daniel’s Den as the ‘hidden treasure’ of Brent and this phrase is now used about the mission of toddler groups across the UK. We are committed to raising the profile of not only Daniel’s Den but toddler groups as a whole across society and areas of influence.