As we start our 4th year of operating it is useful to reflect, but also to appraise our work. It has been quite a journey and involved much learning, but the big positive is that we have not just survived, but have grown over time and become a service used and valued by many.
Three years ago we started with one meet a month, some enthusiastic volunteers and a handful of carriers. As of this month we will be having 5 meets a month, including one dedicated to wrappers. We have a trained consultant and trained peer supporters to help at meetings, and we have approaching a hundred carriers. We can offer one to one services for parents and have hosted a range of workshops. We have made regular visits to a number of local baby groups and attend antenatal classes run by the local midwives.
One difficult area has been finding rooms to use for our drop ins. We started in the attics of a local coffee house and new from the start we needed to find something more suitable. As we are unfunded many rooms are just too expensive for us to hire and alas the local children’s Centres were unwilling to allow us to use their facilities.. We have been made welcome at the Art Centre Cafe each month, it is great that they have embraced us being there on the first Tuesday of each month. We are grateful for the use of the Forest School of Dance studio in Morgans Vale, this has enabled us to spread our services to the south and east of Salisbury. The community room at Old Sarum has been our only paid venue to date, and generally donations have covered much of this expense. This month we are trialling hiring a more expensive room at the Leisure Centre for meets, we will need these to be well attended if they are to become a regular fixture.
We have very much fine tuned the carriers we have for hire, moving on those that have proved less popular and investing more in those that are frequently hired. We have donated stretch wraps to the breast feeding support groups and to the coordinator at the hospital. I think all our original carriers have now been replaced, as we strive to keep our stock fresh and up to date. We have more than one of all our most popular carriers and so far have been able to meet all hire requests for these. We have also branched out into offering extras, such as ear defenders and Bundlebeans for hire.
Our hire fees have remained the same, or as we now promote a meet to meet hire, have actually reduced. Hire fees are important as they pay for all our purchases and running costs, but we aim to make them affordable for parents and carers. We have introduced short term specials such as holiday hires and extended hires over school holidays in order to tap into different markets. We also offer a free stretchy wrap hire to new parents, carriers can be borrowed for a month for free by leaving a £20 deposit.
Over the 3 years we have run a number of fund raising appeals and we appreciate the support we have received for these. Fund raising is an essential part of what we need to do to operate. Money for advertising materials, storage, insurance, room costs and training comes from these contributions.
Library personnel has changed and I am now the only remaining original helper. Inevitably peoples’ lives and commitments change and we see an ebb and flow of helpers. We are very grateful to all the volunteers who have invested time and energy into the library over the last 3 years. Without these contributions we wouldn’t have developed and grown.
There has also been a change by stealth. l no longer ask for deposits from those paying to hire slings at meets. I have found taking deposits firstly inconvenient for parents, many of us now operate without cheque books, and secondly involves quite a significant amount of admin for me. We are also fortunate in that the vast majority of library users really value our service and completely understand that not returning their sling means both the library misses out on much needed income, and other parents have limited carriers to try at meets. Our only two missing slings over 3 years came from hiring at a public event, so going forward I have decided to not collect deposits and simply trust the people who come to our meets.
I am not sure where the next 3 years will take us, but I hope that in 3 years time the library will be in an even stronger position, offering support to all who want to find out more about babywearing.