Independent toy retailer Ginette McGee has started a campaign urging Sussex shops and cafés to offer kids a ‘Safe Haven’ when required.
In June, Ginette heard of a year six girl who had been told by her parents to ask in a shop or café for help if she felt frightened. But when the child found herself being followed and traumatised by a group of older kids, she still didn’t feel able to ask for help, and returned home distressed.
“This is probably for a number of reasons, but largely because children are, quite rightly, taught from an early age not to talk to strangers,” explained Ginnette. “Also, how often do you see signs in shop windows along the lines of ‘only two schoolchildren at one time’ and so on. Being a business owner and parent of four, I felt appalled that a child didn’t feel they could come and ask my staff for help when there are incidents of bullying happening on the streets right outside, as there are in every town.”
Acting on this, Ginette decided to create a simple poster, explaining to children that they are welcome inside the shop or café if they need an adult around to offer reassurance. Within a week of launching the poster campaign, over 30 businesses in Seaford were involved. Unbeknownst to Ginnette, a lady by the name of Theresa Youngman had started a similar scheme in Peacehaven, and the two women decided to combine their schemes to create Safe Havens in Sussex.
“To be clear, we are not offering childcare, or counselling – simply a place someone can come in to escape an intimidating situation. We can call a parent or friend for them, or simply let them wait until they feel the trouble has passed. We now have over 100 businesses involved, and we would welcome more,” Ginnette added.
With no requirement for DBS checks, any shop or café that would like to be involved can contact Ginette at Toytown, or visit the Facebook page Safe Havens in Sussex to receive advice and a poster to display.