Walthamstow Toy Library

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Providing toys and play to the children of north-east London for nearly 50 years.



“When I talk to people about the Toy Library, they always tell me that it was a lifeline for them or that they met their best friends here,” says Helen Crockford, Director of Walthamstow Toy Library and Play Centre. “It’s a very welcoming and inclusive place.”

And Crockford can testify to this herself. Prior to the decade she’s spent running the centre, and the few years before that as a trustee, she used the services herself. “It was so helpful,” she says. “All my friends from antenatal class went back to work when their children were six months old or some moved out of London. I felt really lonely and it was a nice place to come. We would borrow a lot of toys because I wasn’t working and we didn’t have very much money. Some of my best friends to this day I met through the Toy Library.”

There are two locations, Walthamstow and Leytonstone, and both have a simple mission statement: “to provide a safe and stimulating place for young children, parents and carers to play, learn and interact, as well as loan high quality toys which don’t cost the Earth.”

While children obviously benefit from the play sessions, toy loaning, and social and educational aspects provided by the centre, it also doubles up as a vital place for parents and carers. “It’s as much a service for adults,” says Crockford. “We really try to reduce isolation and help parents to develop supportive social networks. We give parents a hot cup of tea or coffee and for some that’s the first time that they’ve had a drink all morning because they’ve been so busy getting everyone else ready. Happy parents really does mean happy children. We very much promote the health and wellbeing of whole families.”

By also placing a focus on loaning and borrowing toys, the organisation pushes forward an environmental agenda. “A big concern for us is waste,” Crockford says. “Children get bored of toys or they break easily and they just go into landfill. We try to stop that.”

The Toy Library has provided a beloved community service for nearly 50 years but it’s perhaps more needed than ever at the moment. More low-income families are accessing the services than ever, and they are welcoming Ukrainian refugee families, as well as helping asylum seekers. “Waltham Forest is incredibly diverse and that reflects the community that we serve,” says Crockford. “We’ve got families from all over the world.”

While local residents benefit from the centre in a variety of ways, they also contribute. “The community is so generous,” Crockford says. “There’s one mum who was an asylum seeker and had no recourse to public funds and would often come to me asking for equipment. I would shout out on social media and soon my office would be full of stuff.”

That same woman just received her right to remain in the UK from the Home Office. “She’s really keen on volunteering for us and doing some training so that she can start work,” Crockford says. “I just think that’s brilliant. I feel so happy that we’ve been able to support her with that journey.” Volunteering leading to employment has been a common trajectory at the centre. “Probably half of our staff were volunteers at the library first,” Crockford says. “We’re also about providing meaningful work.”

Having gone from a grateful user of services to now running it for the wider community, Crockford remains passionate about the centre and all it offers. “It’s such a joyful job,” she says. “Walking into a room full of under-fives, they’re just so fun and are little sponges who want to learn. I love that we can support children to learn and develop and prepare for the next stage of their life. It’s a really special place.”

What was achieved?


active family members using services




volunteers supported into childcare sector employment
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