A Dorset charity has provided support to 230 families and 467 children since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including those isolated, facing financial hardship, disability and mental health challenges.

Home-Start South East Dorset is a voluntary organisation committed to promoting the welfare of families with at least one child under five years of age, by helping parents navigate mental challenges and create a healthy childhood for children.

Since its launch 25 years ago, the charity has supported over 3500 families and over 10,000 children – and that support has never been more important than over the last year.

Community Action Network (CAN) has chosen Home-Start South East Dorset to feature as its Community Hero in The Spotlight for May, to celebrate the charity’s incredible contribution to local families.

Home-Start volunteers usually visit parents at home for two-four hours a week to offer help with anything they may need in their parenting journey. This includes areas such as reducing stress from family conflict, parenting skills, improving physical and emotional health, feeling less lonely and isolated. Families can also benefit from meeting other people who are in the same situation as them. 

Due to COVID-19, the way Home-Start South East Dorset provides support has adapted and the project currently runs virtually over Zoom sessions. As lockdown restrictions ease, volunteers will be meeting more families again on a face-to-face basis, in line with COVID guidelines. However, virtual groups will remain in place for those who need them, and the charity hopes to offer a much more tailored and individual approach to supporting families in the future.

As the UK slowly comes out of lockdown, many families may still be experiencing pressures and emotional distress, so Home-Start is tackling isolation, mental health, domestic violence and many more aspects. 

Kerry Rosam, Family Group Leader at Home-Start said: “At the moment we have so many families who are still struggling.”

Home-Start focuses on things that make the lives of parents much happier.

“Within our group, we talk about positives… We talk about what we can do at home with the children, what we can do at home with our mental health. How we can get through this as one group together. If anything, it has made us one big family even more so,” Kerry explains. 

A Home-Start parent said: “Since the coronavirus crisis, many other groups have been cancelled and all emotions and negative mental health are running very high in this uncertain time. I’m so grateful we’re still having our Haven group virtually with a call weekly and our WhatsApp group for immediate support”.

As part of its COVID-19 response, the charity also delivered vital food, baby goods and other supplies to families in need. Volunteers played a key role in helping families feel connected alongside online groups, Home-Start also organised ‘Wellness Walks’ as a way to combat isolation, still within the government guidelines. 

Tori, one of the mothers who attends the Wellness Walks, said: “My daughter enjoys it, she gets some fresh air, and it just breaks the day up a bit because it’s a bit long sitting at home all the time and I get to see other people as well”.

Karen Loftus, CAN’s Chief Executive said: “I’ve known Home-Start for many years, and seen first-hand how their trained volunteers and experts help support families through tough times. I’m really happy to shine our spotlight on their valuable work”.

To find out more, visit https://homestartsoutheastdorset.org.uk/