A mum who was forced to close her beloved toy shop business following the pandemic has now put her stock to good use helping the local community thanks to The Health Lottery.
Maia Banks, 38, from Cardiff set up a weekly stay-and-play session where local families can meet and borrow toys in the Grangetown area of the city.
Thanks to £17,808 funding raised through The Health Lottery, Maia is able to run an extra session for young families each week, as well as introduce a proper system for borrowing toys.
She said: “The grant has allowed us to facilitate the toy library and stay-and-play sessions, purchase art and sensory play supplies, and also help with our organisation.
“We’ve bought a laptop so that we can carry out the additional admin which comes with running a project like this.
“I’m also planning on buying a sign and getting some leaflets printed so we can spread the word in the community. I’ve been able to replenish batteries, toys always need batteries and they run out so quickly.
“And I’ve bought some new toys to replace those that have come to the end of their lives.
“The funding has also gone towards other things that you might not think need to be paid for, like insurance. The money has really helped, and in turn, it’s helped all the families who have come along.
“I run the library on my own without any volunteers and it would be really, really hard for me to operate without this funding.”
More than just a toy library
Maia, who is mum to Corabell, eight, and Taliesin, five, welcomes between 10 to 20 children to her sessions each week.
She set up the project in her local community centre in March 2023, three months after she closed the doors to her Honeycomb Toy & Book Shop (in Jan 2023) following a “tough year of rising costs coupled with fewer sales” during Covid.
She says the project is absolutely vital to families in Grangetown, an economically deprived area of the capital.
It not only provides a free space where children can play, but helps parents and carers bond too.
Maia, who worked in daycare and early years’ centres before opening the toy shop in 2019, said: “It’s a financially deprived area, and for some English isn’t the first language. I thought when I closed the shop, why not move the toys to create a library in the community centre?
“It is good on the pocket for families, because baby and toddler toys are so expensive, but it’s sustainable and environmentally friendly too as toys are not going to waste and can be enjoyed by lots of different children.
“It’s also great for the parents and carers as they can meet each other and socialise. And I like to think that those relationships will continue on for them as well.
“It’s creating a community or a safety net for people that maybe don’t have that [friendships] here.”
Nurturing friendships in the community
Maia felt strongly about connecting families in the area after moving to Wales from Virginia, USA in 2012. She met her Welsh husband, Martyn, in 2008 before deciding to relocate from the States to Cardiff and start a family.
She said: “I know what it’s like not to have your family close by, my family are still over in Charlottesville, Virginia, so for me, it’s so nice to see these families get to know each other, and then their children and toddlers become friends.
“Unfortunately, COVID wiped out a lot of these groups in pockets of the community, so I think families are grateful for this. There are just not enough of them across the country anymore.”
She added: “I know from my own experience from having my children how important these baby and toddler groups are. I had a local breastfeeding group down the road and that saved me.
“I found things really, really hard, but it wasn’t just breastfeeding advice I took from it, it was being able to get out of the house, to go somewhere and just talk to other people in the same boat as me.
“I have some friends from that group that I’m still in touch with eight years later. From those relationships, we now pick each other’s children up from school and help each other out.
“It’s the kind of community I want to create with the library, where families can come together, make friends and form bonds.”
Help good causes every time you play
Maia thanked players of The Health Lottery for making her project possible.
“It’s given a whole community a safe place to come and play. I really wouldn’t have been able to carry on without it. Some people asked me, what do you need funding for, you just have people come and play?
“But some people don’t realise what goes on behind the scenes when running a community project like this.
“There are accounts that need doing, and overheads and insurance. I was struggling to pay it out of my own pocket, times are tough for us all, so this money means so much. It means I can pay for those things without worrying and concentrate on the library and making it a fun place for local families to enjoy.”
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Set up in March 2023 by Maia Banks
£17,808 grant from money raised through Health Lottery Wales
A valuable community resource in Grangetown, Cardiff
A social hub for parents and carers, as well as a resource for kids