***The following is an exchange of messages between North Herts. District Councillor Deborah Segalini and Keeley, published with the full permission of both ***
ME: Can I use your experience of Home-Start for a piece I’m doing for the local Labour party website http://www.hitchinandharpendenlabour.org/ ?
KEELEY: Of course you can! To be honest, I'm gutted for Home-Start North Herts. They were amazing right from the time I was pregnant with the twins and on crutches. I had a volunteer who came out once a week and played games with Tom, took him to the park etc. All the things I was unable to do.
I had a different volunteer, once the twins were here and she stayed with us for over 2 years. She is still a friend and the twins still run up to her with excitement for hugs when they see her. Her visit once a week gave me the time to step back and do mundane things like housework etc which is what I needed. 24/7 with young twins was exhausting mentally and physically. I loved those few hours to step back. She also came with us to the dentist, medical appointments and the hairdressers - all those places where you needed 2 pairs of hands.
Even though she stopped visiting last year officially, she still came and helped out when my husband had a big breakdown last summer and was sectioned. In fact both Charmaine and Faith (managers at North Herts) were fantastic during my husband’s crisis. They'd come and see me in an instant if I was struggling. They liaised with Children, Schools and Families when I needed him to be away from the children when he was at his worst. They are so unjudgemental and nothing phases them.
For me, I personally struggled with the fact that in a couple of years we had gone from a two-income family with one child, to having three children under 4 (at the time), no income and a husband in mental health crisis. We are still rebuilding now but things are much improved since last year.
I still get phone calls from Home-Start just to catch up on how we all are, which is lovely.
There is no way the Children's Centres or Health Visitors can provide this type of service as they don't have volunteers. Many families feel threatened or 'spied' on by Health visitors etc whereas Home-Start support without judgement. They go so far above and beyond....
We would never have made it through without their help. My husband and I probably wouldn't be together and I dread to think how much worse his mental health would be.
ME: Your story is amazing. I want to use all of it!
KEELEY: There are lots of people with amazing stories who have been helped by Home-Start. Some people have the view that it is only there for those that they see as the 'dregs' of society. But I have met such a mix of people at the Family groups they ran until April this year (lost funding for that too). Teenage mothers, single parents, people with physical, mental and learning disabilities, ex-high-fliers for whom a life crisis has intervened, grandparents caring for grandchildren, many families with twins, families in a new area who are isolated, those with English as an additional language and many others for whom Home-Start was a place to make friends.
ME: Yes. People forget that anyone can become 'dregs' for want of some loving intelligent support
KEELEY: Exactly....for those parents who struggle with 'parenting' Home-Start is fantastic. The volunteers can guide appropriately without them feeling they are being lectured or told they are doing it wrong. The mixture of people at the family groups also enabled people to learn off each other by seeing appropriate behaviour management for example. There is nothing else like it around! My plan has always been to train as a volunteer once the twins start full-time school in 2016 - not sure if I’ll get the chance now. :-(