In 1961, I was an isolated mum with three children under five living in a new city. In a letter to the Lichfield Mercury, I asked if any parents were interested in a pre-school playgroup three mornings a week. There were! One mother, a trained nursery nurse, supervised: others helped. We never viewed ourselves as volunteers. This was self-help community action. Lichfield City Council winched a tree trunk over a garden hedge free of charge. Children loved that trunk.

Helped by Belle Tutaev’s letter in The Guardian, interest in playgroups grew rapidly. As an area playgroups organiser, I campaigned. Eventually, Lichfield City Council allowed a group of mothers, displaced by Birmingham slum clearance to a large Lichfield estate without safe pre-school play facilities, to run their own successful playgroup.

I became one of the founder members of the National Pre-school Playgroups Association and edited its newsletter which became a self-financing magazine.

Positive changes in my life often evolved from the learning/helping experiences of community activity. This is more than volunteering, important though volunteering can be. Community activity is often a more equal process which empowers, challenges and educates all those involved, including for employment.

Proof of this happened when my children were in their teens. In London, I needed a job able to support a 15 ¾ % mortgage etc. The job as CEO of national Action Resource Centre was possible because of what I achieved, much of it unpaid, for Nottingham’s Family First, a pioneering self-help organisation.

For other experiences and ideas around volunteering/community activity read more. My passion about community activity led to the continuing participative project My History of Community Activity.

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