I was flipping through the papers today when news of the passing away of Margaret Harrison, founder of Home-Start caught my eye. My mind went back to my own association with the charity. I was a new mum and a new immigrant to Britain when, bored to tears with looking after my infant child and desperate for human interaction, I made my way to the local volunteer centre.
The centre manager took to me kindly and put me in touch with Home-Start who were looking for volunteers. They had a 40-hour training programme spread over 10 weeks starting soon and if I was interested, they could get me on it and even pay for childcare for the few hours that I was going to be trained. I admit, it was the offer of free childcare that I succumbed to and after being assessed for suitability, I was registered to go on the programme.
So every Wednesday, I would drop my son off at a childminder’s place, a few doors from where the training was taking place and settle down to four hours of learning. Attending the course was a crash course for me in to British society. I actively engaged in the activities and the discussions that followed. Suddenly, I felt robust, alive, as if my brain had been dunked into a bucket of cold water. I was no longer just a mum but someone whose time was considered valuable, whose skills were needed. I was valid.
As a volunteer I was trained to support mothers who were struggling with raising children, particularly those under the age of five. And it could be due to a variety of reasons – from single parenthood to having kids with special needs to social isolation to language barriers to multiple children and so on.
Volunteers were expected to spend no more than two hours at the client’s place offering a listening service. For many mums, this would be the only time during the week when someone was asking after their well-being.
I ended up volunteering for Home-start for almost five years. In the subsequent years, we have loads of cross-connections including once when, working for a funding body, I supported their application which was successful. And not long ago, I went along to a fundraiser tea organised by them where I heard of their desperate financial situation. I later learnt that they had to let go of their local head as they could no longer afford to pay her.
It is only more recently that I have come to appreciate how volunteering for Home-Start really saved my sanity. How without their weekly stimulus during those crucial first months in the country, with a new baby to care for and with not a shred of support, I could have crumbled so easily. I could have been one of the clients that came referred to Home-Start via social services. Instead I was asked to bolster them, support them. I am certain that it was the faith that the charity had in me (specifically their local head) that kept me afloat. And for that I am forever grateful.