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Toyhouse working with families for over 35 years



Toyhouse was established in 1979 and grew out of Home Visiting work the Adult Education Institute was undertaking to lonely, isolated or depressed women with young children. The idea was to support these women by regular visiting, to develop their parenting skills by means of demonstrating the value of toys and play, and by leaving them with toys to use until the next visit. The long term aim was to support these women in making use of Adult Education Institute daytime classes and thus increase their adult learning, hopefully, eventually to increase their chances of enjoyable, fulfilling employment.

When the success of the initial Home Visiting was realised it was decided that a larger number of families could benefit from the opportunity to borrow good quality, safe, durable toys to increase their range of tools for learning through play. So the first community Toy Library was established in a Community Centre in Shadwell. Families were invited to come along and choose a toy to borrow from a wooden child sized house full of toys – hence the name “Toyhouse”. This first Toy Library was run by a worker from the Adult Education Institute, but the next few Toy Libraries that opened were based in Clinics and Community Centres and were run by groups of parent volunteers. Soon the success of Toy Libraries became known to those in Education and the first Toy Libraries based in schools were set up, firstly in a Nursery school and later, when the users grew to be 5 years old, in a primary school.

There was a quiet period until 1984 when the Association developed significantly thanks to a large grant which facilitated the purchase of a large quantity of both big and table top sized toys, thick foam filled mats and shapes and so the Mobile Toy Library for Groups and Baby Bounce (now Early Years Soft Play) were born. The Mobile Toy Library for Groups is a toy lending service to groups who cater for under five’s and who have insufficient stock to satisfy their users. As their funding increases they are able to purchase their own toys and no longer need to borrow from us. Thus toys are freed and a new group use the service. In 1990 we lost the free storage shed where the large equipment was stored & so now we concentrate solely on lending table top toys, eliminating the problems transporting large items.

Baby Bounce at the Shadwell Centre, (now Early Years Soft Play & now based at Mile End Play Pavilion), is a soft play facility for under 4’s and their parents and carers to enjoy together and consists of large, thick mats arranged across the hall floor, on top of which are placed 30 smaller foam filled shapes with which the children can play. Additionally there are climbing frames, rockers, a home corner, and Cosy Coupe cars. At first sessions were run by a member of the Adult Education Institute staff once a week but, due to the overwhelming popularity of this facility, there are now two weekly sessions in term time facilitated by a Toyhouse worker. Via Children’s Centre funding, an additional venue has been established at St Hilda’s East.

By 1985 the need for paid staff had been recognised and the G.L.C. Women’s Committee made a grant equivalent to one full time worker. This enabled the Association to employ an Administrator, a Toy Library Support Worker and a Fieldworker to run both Baby Bounce and the Mobile Toy Library for Groups. Also office space was found and so Toyhouse became more visible and viable. In 1986, with the demise of the G.L.C., Tower Hamlets took up the funding and so later that year Toyhouse moved to its office base for 16 years at St. Mark’s Gate, offering support to 8 Toy Libraries but by 1989 that number has risen to 22.


  • 1979 Toyhouse started through Adult Education Home Visiting.
  • 1984 Grant to set up Baby Bounce, Mobile Toy Library 4 Groups & employ 3 part time workers
  • 1986 London Borough of Tower Hamlets took over funding
  • 1990 Funding enabled Toyhouse to employ 2 part time Toy Library Support Workers
  • 1990 Annual Toy Library Training Course first held
  • 1990 Docklands Childminders Mobile Toy Library began. Establishment of role of Co-ordinator
  • 1991 Bilingual Support Worker started
  • 1991 First annual mini Toy Day held
  • 1993 Mobile service renamed Home Visiting Mobile Toy Library
  • 1993 First Leisure Library set up
  • 1994 Toyhouse becomes a Company Limited by Guarantee
  • 1995 “Volunteering in Toyhouse Libraries” first of two x 3 year projects started
  • 1996 Toyhouse Special Soft Play started
  • 1999 Part time peripatetic bilingual Family Support Toy Librarian project set up.
  • 1999 Expansion of the Home Visiting Mobile Toy Library service
  • 2000 Service Level Agreement with Tower Hamlets
  • 2001 Start of Surestart work to extend the support to young families
  • 2001 Establishment of Toyhouse Strategy Group in response to growth of the Association.
  • 2002 Start of Family Play Project on a Saturday am & Teenage Parents Soft Play.
  • 2002 Development of family support work via 5 Surestart programmes
    Launch of Baby Clinic Play & Information sessions
  • 2003 Services delivered in all 7 Surestart Local Programmes. Toyhouse Volunteers developed
    Launch of Saturday morning Mobile+ service to those aged 5 – 11 with special needs.
  • 2004 Work with BGVPHA to be part of a new social housing and community build.
    Toyhouse services clearly linked to Government Policy “Every Child Matters”
  • 2005 Agreed Architectural plans to fit out a new building, and raised money to pay for it.
  • 2006 Signed 15 year lease on 92, St Paul’s Way, E3 and Toyhouse began to secure funding via commissioning, securing 2 contracts to deliver services via THCCs in Toy Libraries & Clinics
  • 2007 Relocated to The Toyhouse Centre (TTC), our proper home!
    Re launched Young Parents Group for teenagers and a Somali Group, both in TTC
    Began to run Toy Libraries via Commissions from schools and Family Centres
    Established the Reaching Out Pilot Project
  • 2008 Launched SSPP in TTC on a Sat am for 2–6 yr olds with special needs & their families.
    Launched a Drop in “Stay & Play” and Toy Library session in TTC for any local family
    Launched the Active Play & Health Eating project aimed at tackling childhood obesity
    Secured contract with TH Children’s Centres to provide 20 “Play & Information” sessions but ceased running Toy Libraries funded by THCCs
    Presented the work of Toyhouse at the International Toy Library Association conference
  • 2009 Extended our service provision in partnership with Lincoln & Burdett Children’s Centre
    Family Play Project now funded via “Support to Young Carers“
  • Since 2009 Toyhouse has been involved in a range of new initiatives:
  • 2012 Setting up physical play sessions in open spaces with funding from the Olympic distributors
    Funding via BBC Children in Need enabled us to start Smart Snackers after School Club
    A range of projects via LBTH Public Health funding, including: Consultation with families and their young children, continuation of our highly popular Active Play Healthy Eating Project and Active Workshops in a range of EY settings.
  • 2014 We were awarded funding by The People’s Postcode Lottery to extend our work with families and their children under 2yrs and training opportunities for local volunteers. In 2015 we received a second grant to take this work into more settings in the borough and addition funding for filming equipment and training to promote the work of Toyhouse.
  • During this year we also began our partnership with Berkeley Homes, when they kindly adopted Toyhouse as their local charity and have offered a range of invaluable support for the organisation and the families we work with.
    2015 We began a new project, ‘Better Beginnings’ to recruit and train Peer supporters enable them to support expectant mothers and families during the babies first year.