Funding needed to stop Carlton Toy Library falling off the financial cliff

Carol Saffer

There is a small red brick heritage building on Cardigan St that was once a home for pregnant single women, a child community health service, and now is where the Carlton Toy Library lives.

The Toy Library celebrated its 21st birthday on Saturday, October 21.

While the weather was not kind, mums, dads, kids, and volunteers all had fun.

Emily Corcoran loves the space and her role as volunteer president. She has been a volunteer for six-and-a-half years and president for the past 18 months.

She wears so many hats it is surprising she hasn’t toppled over with the weight of them, mostly doing the basics of what should be a paid staff member’s role. 

“There is no paid staff; this place is run entirely by volunteers,” Ms Corcoran said.

While historically funded by the City of Melbourne, since COVID, the demand has significantly increased.

Most of her time is devoted to writing grant applications, although grant funding generally does not cover staffing costs.


“We can get funding for new toys and run events, but no one wants to give money for operational costs, she said.


“We know there are people who care about us, but we must translate that into a way to make the service sustainable for the community.”

Ms Corcoran has spoken with three people about funding at the City of Melbourne over the past 18 months and still has no decision. 

“We are rapidly coming to the end of our funding money; the way we are at the moment, we will have to close at the start of March 2023.”

“We have no more money.”

Increasingly the grant tenders at the council have unintentionally changed focus to innovation, and the toy library’s needs are beyond that. 

It has survived for 21 years by jumping from grant to grant, usually of a three- to five-year duration, which covered a lot of the core business.

“It is a place not only to borrow toys; it is a place to connect with the community, for kids to mingle with others and parents to chat with their peers,” she said.

Victorian MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said, “These much-loved toy libraries only stay open because of the kindness and generosity of local volunteers like Emily and her team.”

“I’ve been running a campaign to get the City of Melbourne council to provide secure funding for our toy libraries in Carlton, North Melbourne and Docklands, so they can keep their doors open and support our local families.”

Membership is based on a co-op model; once the annual joining fee is paid, up to five toys a week can be borrowed for a maximum of two weeks with access also to collections at the North Melbourne and Docklands toy libraries. 

“The more members volunteer, the cheaper the fees become,” Ms Corcoran said.

“We even have grandparent memberships which allow them to borrow toys, so they don’t have to keep a store of toys at their house when the kids visit.”

The organisation presently has around 300 members and a toy range covering all ages, from six months to adults.

“The adults generally borrow from our range of board games so they can play after the kids have gone to bed.”

Ms Corcoran is a qualified primary teacher who works in leadership and learning support programs.

She is passionate about play-based learning and early years oral language development.

“I see the library development kits for children, so when they hit school, they come in with a strong level of oral language because they have been read to and played with other kids and adults,” she said.

The library’s model is one of three pillars.

Environmental stability is the first; most of the toys are donated, which diverts them from landfill.

Second is children’s development by focusing on oral language skills and imaginative play. 

Community connectedness comes in third. 

Because a committee of volunteers runs the library, it is a third space where people value being able to play and stay, which is a preventable mental health strategy.


“We do it for families and kids.”


Ms Corcoran estimates in the six years she has volunteered, she has lent out more than $10,000 worth of toys.

“That’s incredible value.” •

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