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'Family' members who help others get a start
HOME-START was formed in Oxford with a simple goal – to support parents who, through no fault of their own, were struggling.
That ranged from being a lone parent, to coping with disability, post-natal depression or simply managing the pressures of becoming a first-time parent.
Families of under-fives are referred by a health visitor, children’s centres or social worker and a volunteer from the Blackbird Leys service is then assigned to them.
They visit for a few hours each week to do whatever they can to help, from washing up, to taking a family shopping or playing with the children.
But pressures on families and the charities which help them have intensified.
In the last ten years Home-Start has encountered more families affected by drugs, mental health issues, domestic violence and serious housing problems.
Funding is also a constant struggle.
When it still had Oxfordshire County Council funding in 2006-2007, Home-Start was able to send 81 volunteers to help more than 150 families.
From March 2011 to April 2012, Home-Start received £70,840 in Oxfordshire County Council funding through referrals from Oxford and Bicester Children’s Centres.
This was cut to £40,000 in the following 12 months.
Now Home-Start could find itself without any local authority funding and completely reliant on its own fundraising to help more than 100 families each year.
Compounding these problems are proposed county council cuts that would shut all but seven of the 44 children’s centres for the under fives.
These fund Home-Start by taking on work for some of its families although it now has £35,000-a-year of lottery money for five years.
Alison Scott, right, chairman of Home-Start Oxford and Bicester’s board of trustees, said: “In taking them to children’s centre playgroups we help them to make friends and ultimately move on with their own lives. But the closure of these childrens’ centres would present us with a serious problem which will be hard to overcome.”
She said: “We are operating at full stretch at the moment.
“After coming close to the edge of closure several times in recent years we managed to secure three years of lottery funding earlier this year.
“But our Bicester operation is still in jeopardy and this is causing severe anxiety for us.”
Each family costs about £1,500 a year to help, a “fraction” of the cost to the council’s social services, she said.
“Money is a constant problem and we are depending more and more on our fundraisers and the ingenuity of our trustees in applying for the limited number of grants and trusts.”
The council’s focus on helping the “most seriously in need” means families with “complex needs” are seeking Home-Start’s help.
She said: “While times are difficult and there will undoubtedly be many more difficulties ahead, we are determined to remain here for the families who need us.”
Former Home-Start user Katie Bain-Collins said it got her through some of the worst crises of her life. The 46-year-old mum-of-three sought help seven years ago after giving birth to a daughter with Down’s Syndrome.
She said: “I found myself with post-natal depression, one baby who wasn’t sleeping and a new baby who could not feed properly and was disabled, which presented my husband and I with all sorts of other difficult emotions to cope with.”
Home-Start volunteer Catherine Goode was sent to help via Sure Start, the Government’s network of family support centres.
She said: “She came once a week, for four hours and would do whatever was needed, from the washing up, to helping me care for the girls and her help changed everything for me.
“My family was up north, and Catherine became my confidante, my support and a treasured friend to us all, giving me valuable time to care for the baby or to spend with my older daughter, who was losing out on attention to her younger, disabled sister.”
Ms Bain-Collins now lives in County Durham and said: “Life is now settled and the girls are all doing well at school.
“But I was sad when I arrived at our new home to find there is no voluntary organisation like Home-Start here to help other families in need.
“I feel very blessed to have had their help and Catherine.
“My girls view her as a grandmother and this weekend we will visit her in Oxford. She is an important part of our lives.”
The national charity Home-Start UK was formed 40 years ago and has supported an estimated million children.
Spokesman Annie O’Brian said: “Times have changed in the last 40 years, but many families still experience the same issues including isolation and mental health problems.
- Ticket proceeds from the November 1 performance of The Other Shakespeare (on October 31, November 1 and 2) in the Shulman Auditorium of Queen's College, Oxford, will be donated to Home-Start Oxford and Bicester by the show’s producer Ian Flintoff. For tickets visit oxfordplayhouse.com
BEING A VOLUNTEER IS SO REWARDING.
Kidlington mum-of-two, Claire Green, 36 completed her Home-Start training six months ago and was placed with her first family – a lone parent and her daughter – within two weeks.
Claire said: “I am on a career break from my job as a lecturer at Brookes University and decided to train as a Home-Start volunteer after a single parent friend of mine told me about how her Home-Start volunteer had helped her.
“I visit my Home-Start family for a few hours a week and last week I took the child for a run around at Shotover Park in Oxford.
“We went back to her mum covered in mud and having had great fun and it was great because the mum had been given time to catch up on some of the things which take such a long time when you are a lone parent.”
She added: “I thought I might find it sad – leaving a family each week after helping them. But it does not. It’s rewarding and you feel you’ve helped.”
GILL WAS OUR EYES
Nicola and Kevin Pamphilon from Tackley near Kidlington, are both registered blind and had help from Home-Start five years ago, when their sighted daughter Emma, was three.
Mrs Pamphilon, 39, said: “I heard about Home-Start through my health visitor who said they could offer us some support in caring for Emma.
“My volunteer Gill came along for a few hours a week for about a year and played with Emma, enjoying things like puzzles and painting, which I found difficult.
“She also took us both out to the local soft play centre and to the park to the feed the ducks and I enjoyed having Gill’s ‘eyes’ to watch Emma, while Emma simply adored her and loved her visits.
“Gill’s visits ended when Emma went to school at four and we were really sad.
“But we still sometimes see her in the holidays and our friendship has continued.”
Catherine Goode, 74 and from Oxford, has been a Home-Start volunteer for six years.
She said: “I was extremely nervous when I met my first family – and I’m sure the lady was nervous about meeting me too. She was a single mum, with three children and just needed a hand.
“But although it’s a very long time since I had my daughter, I know that being a new, young mum can be lonely and isolated.”
Catherine, below, said: “Some weeks I help my family for a few hours and more the next week. I am 74 and it is demanding, but I give what I can and I am very well supported by my co-ordinator and I have regular updated training.
“I suppose I’m a bit like a Grandma to the families I help and I like that – I get very attached to the children, but we often part when I am no longer needed, as trusted friends who keep in touch.”
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