The Port of Tyne has awarded funding to Children North East to develop Little Friends - a thriving parent and child group set up in the West End of Newcastle.

The group runs every Tuesday morning at our Families and Parenting centre in Cowgate. It was established by local mums who wanted a space where parents could bring their pre-school children to play together and already it's a bustling group of 25-30 parents, babies and toddlers who meet every week to chat over a cuppa and swap parenting tips while their little ones play.

Cookery skills

The mums also make lunch together at the new community cafe that recently opened in the centre, learning valuable cookery skills.

Alice Shaw, a founder member and mum to Aryana, 18-months, runs the Little Friends Facebook group with her cousin Stacey. She said: "If the mums weren't here they would just be stuck in the house."

Messy play

"A lot of people want to do messy play but they don’t want to do it in their own houses so that’s what we tend to do. When they come here the kids can let their hair down and the mothers can have a proper talk with other mothers. It can be from weaning a baby to getting a baby to sleep. Sometimes I need advice myself but I’m happy to give it as well.”

Lindsey Wilson is Children North East’s project co-ordinator for Little Friends. Alice added: “I can go to Lindsey with anything. She’s always there to give advice to people. She has helped me with finding a new home for example.”

'Little Friends helped me through my grief'

For Jane Riley (pictured below), the group has helped her through difficult times. Jane, mum to one-year-old Amelia, recently lost both of her parents. She said:

"Dad passed away in August and I lost my mam two years ago, since when I’d been my dad’s full time carer."

Little Friends has been great, otherwise I’d have been stuck in the house on my own. It’s got me through some tough times over the past few months.

"It’s stopped me sitting at home and thinking about things, the grief would have been a lot worse if I didn’t have somewhere to go and people to talk to."

The Family and Parenting centre has just begun receiving food deliveries from the charity FareShare, which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets, and Little Friends have begun cookery sessions with the help of Children North East staff.

Home from home

In a part of Newcastle that has child poverty levels of up to 48%* surplus food provision is a huge benefit to the local community alongside helping parents make healthy and affordable food choices.

“Last week we made lasagne and it was really good and this week we've made pizzas,” said Jemma, mum to 18-month-old Jacob. “Some of the younger mums don’t really know how to make these things so cookery is one of the other things we decided to go with.”

Little Friends are also organising school holiday day trips to keep the little ones entertained.

Natalie Johnson, who has Kayden three and one year old Keira Lily, sums up what Little Friends means to her. “Somewhere to go, somewhere to eat, somewhere for the adults as well as the kids. It’s a home from home.”

Louise Tinkler, HR and Communications Director at Port of Tyne, said:

We are delighted to support Children North East; the Little Friends project makes a real impact in an area of our community that needs it most. We hope that through our support we can help families and young people to thrive.

Tracey Welsh, Service Manager for Children North East’s Families and Parenting Service, added:

"We're so grateful to the Port of Tyne for supporting our community to set up Little Friends at our Cowgate family centre, supported by staff at Children North East.

We are all about giving babies and children the best start in life and this group really ticks that box - it provides the little ones with educational play and it's a safe space parents can meet to swap parenting tips, offer support to one another, learn cookery skills and build that important bond between parent and child.

· Figures from the End Child Poverty Coalition