Babies don’t come with a manual, and becoming a parent is a huge, life-changing challenge, even for those with the best resources.
It’s no surprise, then, that some people need a bit of extra help in the first years of raising a family – maybe they’re a single parent; maybe their own mum and dad aren’t around to help; maybe they’re new to the area and haven’t yet built up a support network. Others might be bereaved, have a physical health problem, or be struggling with post-natal depression. This is when Home-Start can help.
Home-Start was founded in 1973 and is a network of more than 180 independent charities that between them cover 71% of the UK’s local authority areas. Around 10,000 Home-Start volunteers – including here in West Dorset – provide in-home support to more than 27,000 families with 56,000 children. The volunteers visit for a couple of hours each week to help as needed, maybe giving parenting guidance, help with budgeting or support to get out of the house and connect with the local community. The service is free and confidential, and parents can either get in touch themselves and ask for support, or contact their GP, health visitor or children’s centre to ask for a referral. The only stipulation is having at least one child under five.
Home-Start West Dorset is based in Dorchester and its patch extends as far as Weymouth and Portland, but it also has volunteers here in Bridport. One of them is Claire*, a retired teacher with adult children and grandchildren of her own. She has been working with one family since last summer and has just been matched with another. She is enthusiastic about the benefits for both parties.
“Both the families I’m working with are single mums, although that’s not always the case.” she says. “When I visit I just ask how I can help. Often what’s needed is support with basic things like helping them to go shopping or to the library – they just need to have an extra pair of hands around for a while. It’s a gentle process – I’d describe it as befriending, with a degree of professionalism.
“I love chatting and getting to know people and I’ve enjoyed building a relationship with my first family. It’s good to see the mum blossom as her confidence grows. I like a challenge and the feeling that I’m making a difference, doing something useful.”
All Home-Start home visitors undertake at least 28 hours of training over an eight-week period. There is also regular ongoing support and guidance from a dedicated member of staff, including supervision every six weeks, and numerous additional training opportunities.
“The training was very valuable,” says Claire. “I had mine in autumn 2021 – one morning a week for six weeks – and it was on Zoom because of Covid, but usually it’s done in person. As well as going through practical topics like listening and communication skills, safeguarding and even recognising loan sharks, we were also encouraged to think about our own core values and how we’d apply them to the volunteer role. I also really appreciate having regular supervision – the supervisor is there to make sure we, the volunteers, are OK. As well as regular one-to-one meetings, they’re always at the end of the phone if we need a chat.”
Home-Start West Dorset is looking for volunteers, both in a home-visiting role and as trustees of the charity. “By volunteering with us, you can help families when they need it most,” says Jo Clarke, Community Engagement Coordinator, Home-Start West Dorset. “We have two types of volunteer roles: helping directly with families, and working with our enthusiastic team of trustees. To become a home visitor, you should have lived experience of parenting and have two or three hours a week available to support a local family. We’re looking for all kinds of people at all stages and levels of life; professional experience in different fields can also be useful but is certainly not essential.
“Our trustees are a hands-on team with a range of backgrounds and experience. They play a vital role in shaping the strategic direction of the charity, fulfilling our purpose and business goals. This is a great role for someone who wants to be part of Home-Start but can’t commit to regular home visits.”
To volunteer, or to find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Helen on 01305 265072. If you’re a parent of a child under five, and you’d like some support from Home-Start, you can get in touch using the same number or email address.
The charity also welcomes help with fundraising – and, of course, donations, which you can make online at www.justgiving.com/westdorset-homestart/donate.