Charity helping homeless mums who have nowhere else to go to for support
- Credit: Archant
When mum-of-four Dupe Daniyan first visited The Magpie Project she looked like she had walked in from a forest.
The 36-year-old had barely slept, she had no hair and was eating very little.
Without a stable home and with an insecure immigration status, she had been forced to work underground jobs to put food on the table.
She was living on the breadline and had no idea where to turn for support.
“Sometimes it was just too much for me, but I didn’t know where to get help,” she says. “I didn’t know who to speak to and I felt that I was on my own.”
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Dupe came to this country from Nigeria 11 years ago. But when she fell pregnant and her visa expired she was unable to go back.
She ended up renting tiny rooms for about £150 a month in overcrowded flats and working on what amounted to slave wages.
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“I was working cash-in-hand in a restaurant. It was long hours and I was getting £15 a day sometimes working 12 or 14 hours from 4pm to 5am,” she says.
“I was working six nights a week, with only one day to rest, but I couldn’t complain because I didn’t know any better. I did it because I was able to take my son to school.”
Unlike the thousands recorded in official homeless statistics in Newham, Dupe was falling completely outside the system.
She did not know she could seek support from social services and was terrified she would be deported or her children taken away if she spoke out.
She tried her best to get by.
“Some days we would go without eating,” she says. “Sometimes we would go for a week with no money and I had to beg friends for help.”
But finally a ray of hope came when she was told about The Magpie Project, which offers practical support to mums and children aged under five who are living in temporary or insecure housing in Newham.
Based in The Lodge in Forest Lane Park, Forest Gate, it runs drop-in centres twice a week.
Mums can have lunch, pick up nappies, get referrals to food banks or simply access support from dedicated outreach workers.
There is also a beautiful playground with a huge sandpit, climbing frames and picnic benches where children can play outdoors.
Dupe was one of the first through the doors when the project opened last June and she remembers vividly the day she walked in.
“I’ll never forget, someone said I looked like I came from the forest,” she says. “I don’t blame her. I was pale. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping.
“But the first day I came I met Jane and I could see that she was willing to help me, that finally somebody was ready to listen. After that I felt this relief.”
As she sits next to Jane Williams, founder of the project, on a bright sunny day this summer Dupe looks like a completely different woman.
Within six months of visiting Magpie she had sorted out her immigration status and Newham Council had given her temporary housing.
She is now studying an English course with the eventual goal of taking a nursing access qualification.
Jane says Dupe and all the other courageous mums the project works with access the support they are entitled to for themselves.
“We couldn’t do it for her, but we just walked with her and took some of the barriers out of the way,” she explains. “Because Dupe didn’t have the information about where to go.”
Some of the mums who visit are placed in emergency accommodation by social services and subsist on £37 a week. Others have no recourse to public funds at all due to their immigration status.
They are struggling for food and basic goods, such as sanitary products or nappies.
They are also often forced to live in appalling housing conditions.
“Severe infestations of insects, cockroaches, ants, mice,” says Jane. “A mum came in about a month ago with a little girl who had a mouse bite on her hand.
“But I think what we see most of all is the effect of being marginalised and isolated and disbelieved everywhere you go.
“A lot of people are very traumatised by their experiences and it’s being compounded every day by their living situation.”
Dupe says she still can’t believe people live like this in the UK, but adds: “I have lived it, so I do know.”
Advising other people in her position to seek support from Magpie or projects like it, she said: “It has given me hope to start believing in people, because at some point I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I was just wrapped in my shell thinking I’ll get through it somehow.
“But they have given me hope and I just love coming here. You feel like you can fly like a bird without having to worry about anything. It is very important.”
To find out more visit themagpieproject.org or follow @magpieprojectuk