Knitting Club with Mary

An Interview with Julie Cavanagh, Manager at SEAPIA

by Lesia Parno-Kyryienko

“At the age of eight, I arrived at Sands End on its opening day and I’m still here 49 years later as Manager! It started as a local mothers’ initiative, run by those who were looking for a place for their children to play because they lived in small flats and didn’t have space. Since then, we’ve introduced IT facilities, a community garden where children can learn about and grow fruit and vegetables, and even a community kitchen after a bit of recent fundraising… so we also run a cooking club too which is invaluable to furthering health and education, too.

“We run events with local older residents where children bake cakes, make sandwiches and we invite residents for lunch or tea. Last year we did St. George’s Day party and older people shared their war memories with the children. It’s so important to have these engaging conversations between generations.

“Outside the playgroup it doesn’t end. We see the children walk back from school and wave to older people across the street. Since many of them are quite isolated and don’t get much interaction it’s brilliant to see these relationships develop.

Older lady teaching knitting to two young girls

“‘Knitting club with Mary’ started in last year. It’s run by 90-year-old lady called Mary, who was born in India and took part in what she calls the Japanese War. But it’s not only about knitting…  it’s about the communication; children usually ask Mary lots of questions about her life, her past, they are learning a lot from her and they are always sharing their achievements. Mary also feels welcomed and she feels that she is giving something to the community. It’s fantastic for everyone.

“Moreover, things like sewing and knitting are important skills that don’t get taught as much these days. So, what Mary does is invaluable.

“We have around 40 children attending Sands End Adventure Playground each day now. One of the biggest problems we are facing with is the lack of staff, so we may need to limit children to attending for a maximum of three days a week. We are applying for funding to get money for the staff, but it’s a long process.

“If anyone is able to help us continue the amazing work we are doing and seeing, I’d love them to get in touch. Donating or volunteering, we’re open to both, and it’s going to be a busy Summer ahead with both the older and younger people!”


You can watch Mary speaking to young Eva and Tansim here:


Julie was recently awarded Community Organiser Award at the H&F Civic Honours. She has shown endless dedication in building SEAPIA into a successful service, providing after-school clubs and holiday programmes for local children, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. She has also led campaigns on crowdfunding to raise more than £56,000 for a community kitchen, and a ‘social shack’ for children and young people.

If you’re interested in hearing more about or supporting Sands End Adventure Playground you can visit their website at