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A Japanese toddler group – small, but precious

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Heidi French runs Lion’s Den, a toddler group for Japanese families at Central Baptist Church in Leicester.

Being a city-centre church, we traditionally hadn’t felt much call for a toddler group. Then about six years ago, a group of four mums – me included – decided to get together weekly to chat over coffee and cake. Our children were similar ages, and would play happily together while we relaxed.

These were precious days in which we shared in each other’s joys and troubles, and the little ones grew together.

In August 2012, Central held an Olympic-themed ‘Messy Church’. A Japanese lady dropped in with a small baby in a sling. Somebody invited her to Lion’s Den, and she came – bringing friends! This shaped the group into what it is today, a hub for the Japanese community in Leicester.

The group began to develop from something which had served the needs of church families, to something far more wide-reaching.

Our minister’s wife led the group until last year, when she and her husband moved on. I was the only church member in a position to take over and have to admit to feeling more than a little daunted. However, I couldn’t bear to see the group fold and agreed to take it on with occasional helpers. Over the last 12 months, I’ve grown to enjoy the group more and more. I’ve personally grown in confidence, and both my daughter and I have made some great friends. One of our occasional helpers loved it so much that she now comes every week, which is a great blessing.

The group is fairly unstructured. We sometimes organise craft activities or themes, but more often than not, the children play freely. I sometimes worry that I should be offering more, but when asked, the mums say they’re content to relax and chat, knowing that the children are happily occupied. To this end, the group has maintained its original ethos.

We’ve remained small in number, currently with five families in regular attendance. I do have days when I question how worthwhile it is, especially in the whirlwind of a Thursday morning – getting my son out to school, dashing down the road to the train station, travelling into Leicester, and setting up the room for the group. Then a mum will say how much she enjoys coming, and it confirms why I do this. At our recent Christmas party, one lady brought her husband, who was really interested in the group and how it started. He commented on the warm and friendly atmosphere and said that without this group, his wife wouldn’t have a chance to get out and socialise. So it caused me to reflect that if we support even one family, we have a purpose.

In September last year, I attended the Playtime conference. It was a wonderful day, and by the afternoon I was buzzing with ideas and inspiration. I was also feeling a little weary, as tends to happen when you’ve been sitting and listening all day, and my attention was beginning to wane.

Then Katharine Hill stood up to conclude the day, and put up a slide of a Japanese ‘Kintsugi’ bowl. She explained that in this art, when a piece of pottery is broken, it is repaired with a beautiful metallic lacquer. In this way, it becomes more special than ever before.

Katharine used this to illustrate that when one of our group is struggling, we should support them and build them up, that they may potentially be stronger than before. Wow, what a vision for our group! This message spoke to me so strongly, and confirmed to me that the task I have been charged with is really worthwhile.