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Our support group for mums has resumed meeting once a week – but with restrictions. Numbers are limited, all meetings have so far been held outdoors, and our dedicated volunteers have not yet been allowed to join the sessions.
Lockdown was particularly stressful for mums who have mental health problems and are bringing up their children alone. They felt intensely isolated and were fearful for their children’s health. Our counsellor kept in touch by Zoom and telephone, but it’s much easier now that they can meet face to face. The mums are able to chat with the counsellor, while our play leader looks after their children.
Since the restrictions eased, our volunteer befrienders have been able to see their children face to face again. Due to the social distancing rules, these meetings have so far all been outdoors in the local area – going for a walk, a bike ride or visiting the local park. With restrictions still making home visits challenging, we are urgently looking for an indoor venue for the winter where our befrienders and children can meet up in comfort and safety.
We have surveyed our families about the support they received from us during lockdown and all said their befrienders had been in regular contact with them throughout, and had also been able to direct them to other sources of support. One mum said: ‘Without the support, my mental state would have been far worse.’ Another said, ‘They have been fantastic. I don’t know what I would do without them.
Our support for dads who are struggling to cope with family life is getting back on track, although social distancing continues to make group sessions difficult.
Again, some dads found lockdown very tough, especially those who had to work from home, stuck in one place all the time and missing daily contact with colleagues. Our counsellor kept in touch through phone calls and text messages, and some one-to-one meetings are now possible.
The counsellor also mentors men who are approaching the end of their sentences at HMP Winchester and want help to reintegrate into family life. Visits to the prison stopped for four months but have now resumed.
“Having a weekly call from somebody really helped me and my family.”
“Without my befriender I can honestly say I’d feel so much more lost. My daughter is a different child when she knows she is seeing her befriender, and although it is only for 2 hours, it is a huge relief to know I can concentrate on the other two children whilst my daughter is getting one to one too.”
‘The pandemic has had a huge impact on our work, and we’ve had to come up with creative ways to keep in touch with our families – anything from sending a funny video by WhatsApp, to show a mum that we’re thinking about her, to finding a second-hand bike so that one of our children can go for a ride with his befriender. Volunteers have made Zoom calls and sent letters, postcards and text messages to their children, and one even sourced an old laptop for her focus child so that she could practise her French whilst not at school. I’ve also spoken to parents regularly and supported some of the children who were really struggling to get back into school. It’s been a challenge but we hope we have done the best we can for each child and their family.’
Sam Hunt – 5s to 13s Befriending Manager