Dan’s Den helps to build a community and respond to parents’ needs in Ilkley

This article was originally shared on The Methodist Blog on 21 February 2024 and written by a member of the Connexional Media Team. You can find the original blog here: Dan’s Den helps to build a community and respond to parents’ needs in Ilkley – Methodist Church

Upon entering the room, newcomers are greeted by the heart-warming sight of toddlers playing with a vast array of toys, under the watchful eyes of their carers and the volunteers. Laughter, chatter and cakes abound in Dan’s Den in the Yorkshire West Methodist District.

“When my grandchildren come to stay with me, I bring them over and they love it. They love climbing on the frame, getting snacks and getting involved with other children. It is great to offer outreach for the church and to serve the community,” says Diana, a volunteer.

In 2014, the necessary refurbishment of the church’s Sunday school led Christchurch, a Methodist URC LEP, to create Dan’s Den, a Center for Children and Families that opened the following year. It became a success almost from the start, and with the amenities and low fees, many sessions are fully booked.

Dan’s Den is a separate not-for-profit charity. “We offer general sessions, sensory sessions for babies, group sessions for children and families with additional needs and some church functions like Messy Church,” explains Becky, the Outreach Worker for Dan’s Den.

To ensure the activities are as accessible as possible, Dan’s Den offers discounted prices and some free meals. It means that families with low incomes can come and enjoy the warmth of the building, good food and a lot of fun.

A unique place for children with additional needs

The sessions for families with additional needs are particularly welcomed as it’s a safe space, closed to the general public, in where all children are welcome regardless of needs. The sessions help children and their parents connect with other families. Parents can relax and enjoy tea and biscuits knowing their children are playing in a safe environment where no one will be looking and judging.

Once a month, Christchurch offers Smile, a service for children with additional needs. It responds to a need of the local and even district community as several families travel some distance to attend. It is not a traditional service, more like an opportunity for the children to play and the parents to connect, relax and be at church.

Once a year, as a Christmas special, the team partners with the therapy farm Hart Animals for Kids and brings animals that are comfortable being around children. “The children love the dogs, goats and sheep, and it’s all good until you have to clean up the mess!” jokes Michael, the Children, Youth and Family worker at Christchurch, “It’s just another way of making Christmas a little bit more special.”

The possibility of conversations about faith and church

Despite being independent from Christchurch, Dan’s Den is still strongly linked with the church. Any new baby that comes through the doors receives a blanket hand-knitted by a church member and is blessed at the church. “It’s being part of a bigger community, particularly as being a new mum can be quite an isolating experience and Dan’s Den provides an immediate community,” says Revd Roberta Topham, presbyter minister at Christchurch.

Dan’s Den aims to serve the community but there are also subtle hints that families can start a conversation about faith and church. “We have Messy Church and, at Christmas or Easter, we will do specific themed crafts. It’s a nice way to build up relationships,” concludes Michael.


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