Village People 07: Susan Dobre, Community Development worker

Susan is a community worker in Hackney, London, whose day to day work makes her integral to the lives of families across the area. She has has seen babies go from their first steps to their first jobs. Susan's spent her career in various roles caring for big and small children - the kind of person who families remember fondly long after the kids grow up.

susan dobre community development office village people

Tell us a little about your job.

I am Community Development Worker,  supporting residents to organise events that bring the community together, to create shared experiences and opportunities to socialise. It is also a chance for residents on the estate to take a lead, with some funding to make this happen.

Your work is super people-focused, and particularly gets people to come together. What were some of the ways you had to think outside the box during the pandemic, when people specifically had to be apart?

During the pandemic we thought outside the box by moving the our stay-and-play reading group to the park, which went down really well, and I had the opportunity to meet lots of new families. We also started a walking group with Badu Sports and Hackney Council to encourage women to get out and walk/exercise with other like-minded women. This has slowly grown and there is a good cohort of women who attend weekly even now.

We also set up a WhatsApp group during the peak of the lock down to reach out to residents, with sharing support and signposting to receive food hampers, help to get shopping and deliveries made, hospital appointments and getting them safely back home from those appointments. It was also a great way for residents to support each other, and where there was an issue all involved would navigate in anyway they could. It was a superb group, initially led by a resident local to Hackney, whose work was acknowledged at the time.

The nature of childcare and early years education has changed a lot over the time you've worked with kids. What advice would you give to parents who are thinking about the right childcare for them?

My advice for parents seeking childcare is to always go with your gut! If it feels good or not so good always follow that.

When my daughter was a toddler, I wanted her to have a more homely feel so preferred for her to go to a childminder. I remember I checked a selection of childminders and there were some clear no’s for me like smoke-smelling homes, dogs or no child-specific space seen on initial meeting. So always look out for your red flags and follow this, as you would never put your child somewhere you don’t feel comfortable yourself. Ask questions if you’re selecting a child minder, make sure they are Ofsted-registered and you can see certificates, first aid equipment and fire safety provisions. Talk about how they record the children’s daily activities, so you are aware of what they’re doing and their food intake. This should all be transparent and answered easily. For nurseries, ensure there is sufficient space and staffing. As nurseries are Ofsted-registered, many aspects will be automatically covered. Speaking to other parents about possible nurseries locally and on visits can give great insight too.

Thinking about the wider community, what is a way that neighbours can look out for kids in their community?

Looking out for kids in your community is to simply engage in a calm manner. Just say hello and you are very likely to get a hello back and build on this when you see them. Obviously, this depends on the age of the children - if they are older, you adapt accordingly. If younger, contact the parent/carer - we all like to have a chat and there will always be commonalities as parents, with experiences you can relate to. Once those foundations are developed it will much easier to look out for children in your community as you continue to build a dialogue with parents/carers into the mix. This also brings a sense of community and unseen support if the need arises.

One thing you're big on is increasing the diversity of books kids are exposed to growing up. How are kids better off by reading diverse books?

Living in Hackney, it is a diverse community and I believe it is extremely important to see and recognise those differences in the books kids read, as this will be felt and seen as the norm for them. They are more likely to accept differences growing up and understand them better. It is also a perfect time to enhance parents' understanding and it opens a dialogue as adults about different cultures and practices.

Having culturally diverse books also supports children to feel recognised within books and be able to relate to what they are reading, as this is an important aspect to feeling valued and respected enough to be in and represented in books. This supports well-being and confidence, and the recognition of difference and respect and makes it relatable.

Not all books should be animals and shapes, but instead they should reflect the world we all live in, with different textures. And this includes culture too, to better inform people and provide talking opportunities for all and to expand knowledge and experiences.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. All the big and small inputs different grown ups have in a child’s life - from grandparents to playgroup leaders to the lady at the checkout - shape how kids grow up to see the world. Who makes up this village is different from family to family, and even child to child. What the people in this ‘village’ offer and model to the kids in their lives is more diverse still. This series shines a light on the different kinds of people that make up the villages around us!

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