This year is a very important one for Home-Start Havant.
It is three decades since volunteers began helping families in the area overcome struggles in order to lead healthy, fulfilling family lives.
The charity works with parents with below school-age children who are finding it hard to cope.
It may be that the parents need an extra pair of hands around the house when everything feels like it’s getting out of control.
They may just need someone to speak to.
Or they may need a boost of confidence to be able to summon up the courage to walk into a local Sure Start centre.
For some people it can be overwhelmingly difficult to undertake the parenting that comes naturally to most people.
To date the charity, which is based at Mill Hill Sure Start Centre, in Waterlooville, has helped 4,000 families.
At the moment volunteers are working with 60 families in need in the Havant area.
Maggie Eveleigh, the charity’s co-ordinator, said: ‘There are a wide range of reasons for people coming to us.
‘They could be new to the area and feeling very isolated.
‘Perhaps they have a disabled child or they are a disabled parent.
‘Or maybe the children are on the child protection register.
‘We are contacted by mums who are suffering post natal depression. There could be issues with alcohol or drug abuse.
‘The volunteer goes in and befriends the parents, and provides practical and emotional support.
‘They help the mums and dads address the issues they have and helps them build links in the community and access other support agencies because sometimes it’s really difficult to make that first step alone.’
Volunteers come from all different backgrounds – the only qualification they need is to be a parent or have parenting experience.
Maggie added: ‘It definitely helps people.
‘We’re currently working with 60 families.
‘It increases their self-confidence and self-esteem and that’s so important.
‘We are there to help them and say, “you’re doing okay”.
‘Being a parent is a very difficult job and you don’t always have the answers.
‘We are there as companions, to discuss what is happening and any issues they have.
‘What is great is quite a lot of families come back to us later on to train as volunteers.’
‘THEY HELPED ME TO REGAIN MY CONFIDENCE’
LIFE can be tough for single parents and sometimes the support taken for granted as a couple is nowhere to be found.
For Dave Rumble it was doubly hard. He chose to raise his children alone and fought hard to gain custody of his two young boys.
But first he had to prove that he was over his alcohol and cannabis addiction.
Fearing what the future may hold for his sons Stefan, nine, and Blake, three, he managed to turn his life around and, with the help of Home-Start, they are thriving as a family.
Dave, 36, has kicked both his habits and is back at college and aiming to go to university.
He has a Home-Start visit once a week and says he wants to repay their kindness by becoming a volunteer.
‘I smoked cannabis since I was a teenager but I didn’t really drink alcohol until I was in my mid 20s,’ said Dave, from Leigh Park.
‘But while I was working as a painter and decorator I broke my collar bone and had three months off work to recuperate.
‘It was then my drinking really started and I could drink up to a bottle and a half of vodka a night.
‘Giving up cannabis was the easier part. It was alcohol that was tough because you are physically addicted and you get withdrawal symptoms, you get the shakes.
‘I had to do hair strand tests for two years before I could get Blake to make sure I was clean.
‘I won my case on July 27 last year – it is a date I will never forget.’
Dave was not in a relationship with Blake’s mother when he was conceived, and shortly after he was born he was taken from his mother by social services.
He said: ‘I had to work hard to get him. I had to take parenting assessments. For the last 10 months I’ve used Home-Start.’
Dave’s eldest son Stefan came to live with him at Easter because of problems at home with his mum.
He said: ‘It hasn’t been easy for me but Home-Start has been there for advice. It’s difficult for a new single parent but they have helped me to arrange my finances to be able to afford to pay my bills and work out how much I have per day for shopping and for the children.
‘It’s good to have someone to talk to. An extra bit of support.
‘It’s about having an outsider come in and say, “hang on, maybe you could do it this way”.
‘But it’s not just practical advice, they are there if you feel down. They look at things differently from you and give you a different perspective.
‘I would encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed to contact Home-Start. If they are too nervous to turn up just give them a call. I self-referred. They have helped me get my confidence back.
‘I’m resitting my maths and English GCSEs. When I was drinking I was very anxious and could not go out much. Now I feel I’ve got the confidence to do anything. I’m hoping to go on after that and become a social worker.
‘And I’ve told Home-Start that I want to go back and volunteer, to say thank you for all the help they have given me.’
A VOLUNTEER’S VIEW
JAYNE Cochrane, a mum of two, decided to use her experience and knowledge as a mother to help other families.
She has been volunteering with Home Start for two years and has seen not only the impact it has had on her families’ lives but also on hers.
It has been such a good experience she is now training to be a social worker alongside her work for Home-Start.
She said: ‘It’s about befriending. It’s about being non-judgemental, open, and aware of what type of support the families might need.
‘Sometimes it might be that all you need to do that session is listen. You act as a sounding board so they can air their grievances.
‘Other times more practical support is needed and you need to signpost them to appropriate places.
‘It’s about making people self-sufficient.
‘You don’t go in saying “don’t worry I’ll sort this out”.
‘You make appointments for them with places such as the Citizens Advice Bureau so they can do it themselves.
‘The important thing is that they feel they are getting back some control in their lives.’
Jayne’s training – which she was given free by the charity – enables her to give a wide range of advice to families.
She can help encourage healthy eating, devise ways of helping children get into proper sleeping patterns, and also give advice on where to get help for debt or housing issues.
She said: ‘Really, a lot of it is the kind of advice you would usually get on tap from friends and family, but some parents are isolated and simply don’t have that. They don’t have relatives to ask.
‘Sometimes I’m just an extra pair of arms.
‘For example, having someone read to their child gives them the opportunity to spend time with their other children.’
Jayne is now studying at the University of Portsmouth and hopes to go on to become a social worker.
She said: ‘I’m happy to say that it’s a positive experience for both of us. I have gained a lot from it.
‘One of the families described Home-Start as a sort of secret weapon.
‘Someone who comes along and helps out and doesn’t judge.
‘Someone you know you can give information and details about your life and know they will be safe.’
Jayne also believes the charity acts as a filter.
Social workers refer families in need of extra help to the charity because they do not have the time to see families in need as often as Home-Start can provide.
The regular contact with families who are struggling is invaluable and means they are seen for two hours once every week.
Home-Start began in Leicester in the early 1970s.
It started as an idea from a social worker who felt that, as well as volunteers helping individual children, families as a whole should be offered help and support.
There are thousands of volunteers working at branches of the charity across the country.
The vast majority of families are on low incomes, are single parent households or on the at-risk Register.
Havant is looking for volunteers for its new intake.
A training course begins next month and is free to take part in.
It lasts seven weeks and covers a diverse range of issues that may come up during the two-hour weekly family sessions.
The only qualification needed is previous parenting experience.
If you would like to take part contact the charity direct.
To donate to the charity either send a cheque to Mill Hill Early Years Centre, Mill Rd, Waterlooville, PO7 7DB.
Or call (023) 9224 1234 or go to homestart-havant.org.uk.