A Safe Place
To be honest, I didn't really know much about it until I had my first child. I kind of walked through the park to get to work and back, just as a cut through, and that was pretty much it. Then I had my daughter and two or three days after she was born, just needed to get out of the house. So I came down to Flo's. Decided we'd come down and get a coffee. It was quite an easy place to come to. There were loads of other new Mums down here and it just felt like quite a safe place. And that was the start of very frequent trips thereafter!
It reassured me that there was somewhere I could come that was kind of on my doorstep, and very easily accessible. It seemed like a nice place to meet people as well. I went through NCT, so I knew a couple of people with young children in that respect, but I didn't really know many other people that would be off work at the same time as I would be with younger children.
We did Story Explorers, since my daughter was roughly four months old up until maybe three or so months ago. That was pretty much every week, so we got to know quite a lot of other people through doing that. Victoria, who runs Story Explorers, just ran it really efficiently and made it a really welcoming place to be. She introduces herself with a welcome song, and she uses signing throughout, and they tell a story. They have songs and parachutes and bubbles. It's just a really nice way of introducing the children to storytelling really. And then I introduced a couple of other people to it and there came to be a bit of a group of us that would come down week in, week out. It was lovely. Then we'd go and have a coffee afterwards.
I think it made me feel more confident as a mum. I was a little bit self-conscious being a first-time mum. I just had no idea what to expect. Because there's no children in our family whatsoever, so my daughter's like the first child in our family. And the likelihood of there being another one in our family is very slim. I felt like I was just blagging my way through every day, to be honest. I still am to a certain extent. And Story Explorers just felt like a really safe place to come, a really non-judgmental way of meeting new people. I think it built my confidence quite a lot.
Everyone's really good at introducing you to people and just being very considerate. And picking up on what people need. I think Victoria particularly is really good at just picking up on what people need from being here, without you having to say it. It's like, she just seems to click onto it and run with it and just help you, without you really knowing that she’s doing anything. Like, I don't think I really knew at the time that it was so helpful. This is more in hindsight.
So it was really nice to come and do a group with a friendly atmosphere with lots of other children at a similar sort of age to mine. And then I started doing Nature Explorers as well. We got to a bit of a funny age with my daughter where I felt like she was causing too much chaos in Story Explorers. We started off with her being one of the youngest and then we got to a point where she was one of the oldest. She was causing a bit of havoc and I just felt ‘you know what, I think she needs to be outside and burning off some energy somewhere!’
She was just a little bit too young for Nature Explorers, so we're in a bit of a funny stage at the moment. But I'm still coming down to the park quite regularly when we've got an hour to spare or something. She loves coming to the playground. She'll have a snack here before we go into the playground. It fits into a bit of a routine. We use the refill shop as well. Every week we come and fill up with things that we want. Raisins, porridge oats, laundry detergent, all of those sorts of things!
And yeah, sometimes just through sitting in the café, or outside the café actually, because I like fresh air, I think you just naturally get into conversations when you’ve got children. Because people stop and want to look at your baby, your child, and you naturally just get into a discussion in that way. Especially if they've got children, then it's an easy way to open a conversation with people, I think. I mean, even now, just when she's like on the swings or something, there's another parent with a child on the swings, it just opens up a conversation really easily.
We used Flo’s for our NCT group as well – we hired out some of the meeting rooms sometimes as an easy way of getting everybody together. When they were learning to crawl and things, going anywhere else, going into Oxford and trying to find somewhere where you were happy for them to crawl around and they didn't create absolute chaos in the process, was quite difficult. So yeah, coming here and just hiring a room was really easy. And you've got mats and stuff we could pull out for them, which just made life so much easier.
Maybe there was an element of feeling like – I wasn't at work, and I'd gone from having a big role in something to suddenly not being in work. I don't know, maybe just trying to navigate your way through day-to-day and then almost finding a place somewhere? Like feeling a part of something in a really strange way that's not work because that's not there whilst you're on maternity leave. So just feeling like, I don't know, feeling like you're a part of something where you're comfortable. I guess work was something that was comfortable and then I wasn't there anymore.
The midwives as well, they were amazing when I first came down here. I had difficulty within the first week with breastfeeding, and they were absolutely amazing. They completely changed it for me. It went from being a bit of a nightmare to being absolutely fine.
Maybe there's a part of having midwives here that makes it feel more accessible to new mums, I don't know? I felt quite self-conscious about breastfeeding in public, I was quite worried about that before my daughter was born. Flo’s felt like a place you could come and it was fine. This was the first place where I came and breastfed in public. I felt like, ‘Actually, you know what? I feel like I'm okay doing it now and it isn't an issue.’ Other people are doing it and nobody judges, people don't bat an eyelid. And they probably don't in other places to be honest, maybe that's just our own perception as parents? I don't know.
I think Flo’s just makes you feel more comfortable going out in public. Like just, I don't know, just to deal with the challenges of being a parent.