Audrey Daniels looks after her family and listens to their problems, helping them through difficult times. She supports and offers up the knowledge she has gleaned from her life. This might seem like an ordinary role for a mother, but Audrey is not related to this family. She is a volunteer for Home-Start and she supports this family in her spare time.
Home-Start is the UK's leading family support charity. Volunteers who have parenting experience are trained and matched with families who may be struggling to cope for a variety of reasons, including post natal depression, isolation, bereavement or multiple births. Home-Start volunteers visit their family for a few hours a week to offer them support and spend some time simply offering a sympathetic ear.
Audrey has been volunteering since 2004 and has supported many families in that time. She says, “I’m there as a friend and a support. I’m not a social worker or a policeman or anything like that. I’m not officialdom and that is very important. The aim of my support is to give families confidence and a lift. Sometimes their self esteem is very low. I let them know that they are worth something and they are good people too, with their own place in the world, because sometimes they do feel really out of it.”
Audrey, who is also a grandmother, is currently supporting two families, which she says she really enjoys, “We become very friendly and I’m a bit of a mum to them because they’re all quite young, so in some ways I am a bit of a mother figure for them.”
Home-Start, founded in 1973, supports nearly 35,000 families and over 71,000 children each year with almost 16,000 volunteers. The impact that the volunteers have is extroadinary. Felicity Hanson, regional manager for Home-Start in London says: “Many of the parents supported by Home-Start volunteers feel isolated. Two-thirds of the families who approached us last year felt isolated and lacked the practical or emotional support they needed to cope with everyday life. Volunteers are just ordinary parents who share their parenting skills and experience for a couple of hours a week with families who are struggling to cope.”
Home-Start launched the ‘Real Parents’ campaign to recruit more volunteers, as there are always new families in need of help. The campaign is being endorsed by many celebrities including agony aunt and childcare expert Dr Miriam Stoppard. She says that parenting doesn’t always come easily and any experience of parenthood can be invaluable to other people. “Many parents feel the pressure of living up to the images of a perfect mother or father, for some it might even worsen insecurities about being unable to cope with their young children. A safe and happy home environment is the best start in life, but parents who are struggling for a variety of reasons, may need help and support to gain this. If you've got through the highs and lows of parenthood, your experience could be invaluable as a home-visiting volunteer for struggling parents - acting as a family friend by giving emotional and practical support.”
Audrey says that her early experience of motherhood was quite hard and she could have done with the support of another person. “After my first baby I found and there were times when I was very low, when I could do with a little support. Unfortunately I didn’t know about Home-Start so I had to just get through it the best I could but it’s quite a crucial time, I could have done with that , just to have someone to sit and play with my son while I went and brushed my teeth and washed my hair! You just start to do something and waagh!”
Home-Start is keen that all their volunteers receive ongoing training and support for the help they give. The only real requirements are that you have parenting experience and that you will be friendly and understanding and have a practical approach to problems. Volunteers receive full training on one a preparation course, and have a criminal records check, before being carefully matched with families.
Audrey has certainly been friendly and understanding, she says that it has made her a better person. She continues, “I’ve gained a lot from being a volunteer for Home-Start. You have to go at their pace and what their moods are and I think it’s good for you. It helps you hone your people skills. I’ve gained a lot in that respect. I would most definitely recommend volunteering for Home-Start. It’s quite special. You’re dealing directly with people. You’re meeting people face to face. You’re being invited into their homes and into their lives and they trust you. And I think that’s very special that people feel they can do that with you.”
To find out more about the
Real Parents campaign and how to become a Home-Start volunteer
0800 068 63 68