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The past few months have been especially difficult for vulnerable families. Parents have felt isolated, some children have missed school, and the pressure of being locked down has put relationships under strain. Our staff and volunteers have worked hard to maintain contact with our families remotely, and we are pleased to say that services are gradually getting back to normal.
Our support group for mums has resumed meeting at The Meeting House and welcomed some new mums to the group. 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.
Our volunteer befrienders have done an amazing job during the third lockdown, maintaining positive relationships with their focus children and offering support and friendship when families have needed it most. We have also provided regular online group activities for the families through our successful Family Fun Friday sessions. These sessions on Zoom, which have included Quizzes, Bingo and Duck Racing, have provided wonderful opportunities for the children to engage with each other and other befrienders.
As restrictions ease, our volunteer befrienders are now 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 – but as venues reopen our volunteers are looking forward to some fun days out in the summer.
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 one-to-one meetings have now resumed, although group sessions probably will not restart until late summer.
The counsellor also mentors men who are approaching the end of their sentences at HMP Winchester and want help to reintegrate into family life. Face-to-face sessions with them have now resumed two mornings a week.
“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