Parent Support Charity Says Their Help Is Valued On New Shaftesbury Estate

Being a parent can be overwhelming, and Home-Start North Dorset say that mums and dads in parts of Shaftesbury, in particular The Maltings, can feel isolated. Alfred heard how the charity offers support and how volunteers are being recruited to help.

“If your car was playing up, you would go to a garage and ask for help. If you’re struggling with your parenting, or you’re a little bit lonely, then you need to ask for help,” said Jamie Keast. He’s the manager of Home-Start North Dorset. They are part of a network of 250 stand-alone groups around the country and overseas. They all operate under the Home-Start banner.

The charity offers Shaftesbury residents who are bringing up children somewhere to turn when the challenges of parenting become too much. “Parenting is often very joyful but can be very difficult,” said Jamie. “You’re not given a manual when a baby is born. We all have to find our own way to parent our children, and we do that sometimes just through trial and error or advice and support from friends and family. If you don’t have any friends or family around you, then Home-Start North Dorset can provide that extra support and guidance through those early years of parenting.”

Jamie Keast

He explained how Home-Start North Dorset is currently helping families in and around Shaftesbury. “We provide support for parents with young children. We do this by linking them with a volunteer who visits the family for a few hours each week. They provide support, helping them with parenting, providing some adult company, emotional support, maybe practical help around the house, maybe transport advice and signposting to other services,” said Jamie.

Social media can add to the pressure placed on parents. Some overly competitive mums and dads can present their family lives as perfect when that isn’t necessarily the case. “You feel that you’re not doing a good enough job as a parent and we often see parents who get involved with or witness school gate or nursery gate politics, where (people say), ‘My child can count to ten, my child is walking, my child can crawl for the first time’. If yours is a month or two behind, that can feel as if you’re not doing a good enough job as a parent. What we try to remind people is that all children develop at different rates,” said Jamie.

Parents are connected with Home-Start in different ways. Sometimes Social Services or official agencies refer mums and dads to the charity. Jamie says that 10% of parents get in touch independently. He then matches the right volunteer with the family.

“I would visit mum and dad, sit with them for a while and listen to find out exactly what they needed from us. A volunteer perhaps would have a common interest (with the parent). Perhaps they both like walking the dogs together or a volunteer had twins herself when she was a little bit younger and now she’s supporting a mum with twins, for example.”

Shaftesbury resident Vi has volunteered with Home-Start for ten years. She understands how important confidentiality is. That’s why she doesn’t use her surname and she assists families who live outside our town. “I’ve lived in Shaftesbury a long time and I know an awful lot of people here. I’d rather work with families outside Shaftesbury,” Vi said.

Vi says she first needs to build up a relationship with the parents. “It takes two or three weeks to be part of the family,” she said, adding that her volunteering with Home-Start North Dorset is varied. She asks parents to identify when they are more likely to need support.

“It might be the day that they want to go to a toddler group, and I can go with them. Or if they’ve got doctors’ appointments, I’m another pair of hands. It’s sometimes just sitting with the baby for mum while she has a bath, because she can’t leave the baby if she is on her own and she’s stuck in the house,” said Vi.

There is a lot of work for Home-Start North Dorset to do in our town, particularly on The Maltings. That’s perhaps understandable as more young families are living on the Persimmon development than in older parts of Shaftesbury, but the estate’s location, a long walk from the town centre, is an issue.

“It’s outside of the town, and that makes access to other services, like shops, children’s groups and the GP, just a little bit harder. It’s quite a walk and if you don’t have transport that can feel quite isolating. There’s a shop there now but it’s a small corner shop and there’s no community centre. There’s no children’s group. There are no family centres. There’s nowhere for people to congregate to get together to build a community,” said Jamie.

He says Home-Start North Dorset aims to give parents a steer in the right direction, rather than providing support indefinitely. “Sometimes we can support a family for up to six months, but it’s entirely up to the parents. In the same way that they ask for the support to start, they can ask for the support to end,” said Jamie.

Vi says funding challenges means that the charity needs to prioritise. “Home-Start North Dorset is finance-led and we just can’t do it forever. There are so many people referred to Home-Start that if you kept on going to somebody, you couldn’t take on any new people because we just haven’t got the finance to do it,” Vi explained.

Vi gives up to three hours of her time to Home-Start North Dorset each week because she wants to help young families. “I just love children and I love people. If I can help anybody, anytime I will. I can leave that house and know that the children and the family are going to be a little better for another week until I come back. It nice to know that when they open the door they say ‘I’m glad, Vi, you’ve come by today’”

After a decade of volunteering, Vi is especially proud of two clients she assisted. One of the families was affected by domestic violence. Another success story surrounds a mother who became unwell after the baby was born. “I had a lady with postnatal depression. She was in a high-powered job and she just couldn’t cope. After I was there for six months, it was fantastic how she could cope with the children and herself,” said Vi.

But everyone is different and Vi accepts that not all families embrace the help and support on offer. “Sometimes, after six months, I feel I could be there forever and it would make no difference. And sometimes I think I’ve done so much good that family can move a step forward,” she said.

Home-Start North Dorset wants to hear from any parents who need some help. They are also looking for people with experience of parenting who could volunteer. You will need parenting experiencing as a mum, dad, grandparent, guardian or someone responsible for younger siblings. Volunteers mustn’t be judgmental or fixed in their views about what is good parenting.

“They have to be trained first to get their eyes open to exactly what Home-Start does. It’s a very good session,” said Jamie, who would like to hear from potential Home-Start Dorset helpers. “Get involved by giving us a call or sending us an email. We have a new training course starting on 16th January, 2020. It is one day a week over six weeks, and after that time, we would expect a commitment for up to 12 months.”

You can email Jamie at Home-Start North Dorset at