A week in the life of a Home-Start volunteer
For 50 years Home-Start has delivered face-to-face support in the family home. When COVID-19 hit, Home-Start had to rapidly adapt the way it supports families.
Susan, a volunteer with Home-Start Erewash, talks about her motivations for becoming a Home-Start volunteer and provides an insight into what a typical week looks like for her during the pandemic.
“I was a single mum of two boys for 11 years. It was tough emotionally, practically and financially, even with a supportive, loving family close by. Without that support life would have been so much harder.
“As a Home-Start volunteer, I help families facing isolation, the effects of post-natal illness, disability or mental health issues, bereavement, financial difficulties and a whole range of other challenges. One of the very special things about Home-Start is that the support we give to each family is unique and depends entirely on their circumstances and what they want help with.
“I’m pleased we’ve been able to adapt our services during the pandemic, so we can continue to help families. I currently support two mums. I offer them reliability and they know they have someone they can depend on.
“Just before lunch I message one of the mum’s I support. I always send her a message on a Monday to check she is okay and if she needs anything. She replies to say she’s had a terrible night’s sleep and that she is worried about her daughter’s development. I arrange to video call her once she’s given the kids lunch.
“In normal pre-COVID times, I’d visit families in their homes once a week. Home visits usually last anywhere between one – three hours. I’d always start the visit by asking what I can do to help. Some mums might ask me to help them tidy up, or play with the baby while they take a shower, or they may want to just talk. Sadly at the moment, in the midst of the pandemic, I can’t offer this type of practical support.
“I make my husband and me soup and then set-up my computer to call mum. We chat about her daughter’s lack of speech and I signpost her to where she can access further support. I listen to her worries and offer suggestions where appropriate. We chat about her daughter’s sleeping and I share some of the things that worked for me when my boys were little.”
“I go the supermarket to pick up my click and collect shopping and spot a mum I had previously supported. We have a socially distanced chat. It’s so wonderful to see how happy she is.
“Last year she left an abusive relationship and was struggling financially. I helped her create a family budget so she could better manage the bills. I used to work in a bank so I’m very familiar with budgets. Once we had sorted out her finances she said she felt like a huge weight had been lifted. She didn’t need to see me so much after that. It was wonderful to see her build a safe and secure home for her children. By the looks of her today, she is thriving.
“I compliment her on how happy she and the kids look. I always try to give a lot of praise and encouragement to my mums. Sadly many of them don’t seem familiar with praise from anyone in their lives, so providing encouragement in this way is very important.”
“I wake up to a text from a mum I support. She is worried she hasn’t got any credit left for her electricity. Immediately I call my supervisor and ask if she can arrange for an emergency payment for her electricity meter. It’s arranged within minutes so I call the mum back to let her know. She’s very relieved.
“Last week I’d dropped off some essential food items for her. It was good to see her in person – albeit from a distance. On the phone we chat about healthy and inexpensive meals she can cook and I promise to email her some easy-to-follow recipes.”
“I love children and during home visits I enjoy reading and singing to them. It also gives me an opportunity to share with mums some play ideas they may not have thought of. Some of the families I support don’t have many possessions, so I often bring some preloved toys with me. I always find jigsaws and books go down well.
“This morning I spend a bit of time on my computer finding free kids activities and crafts to share with the mums. I know they are struggling with home schooling and keeping the kids entertained, so I try to send over any information that may help. On Facebook I find a wonderful letter from a head teacher telling parents not to put too much pressure on themselves. It’s a great message, so I forward it to the mums.”
“My day starts with a lovely Zoom coffee morning with some of my fellow Home-Start volunteers. I always enjoy these catch-ups. It feels nice to do something social. We talk about things we are concerned about and share ideas. I feel so privileged to be part of such a lovely group.
“All of us volunteers receive great support from our supervisors. I know my supervisor is always there if I need anything. Someone on the Zoom call reminds us that it was just a year ago we had our celebratory dinner. I can’t believe that was the last time we were all together in person.
“I spend the rest of the day sewing, but I get the most welcome interruption when a mum I supported five years ago texts me photos of her children. We’ve since become friends and she regularly messages me.
“She was actually the first mum I supported following the volunteer training course. I remember how nervous I felt when we first met, but I also felt very prepared. The training course all volunteers complete was fantastic. After we were matched we had an initial meeting so mum could decide if she wanted me to be her volunteer. I’m absolutely delighted that she did.”
“My husband and I go out for a walk. It’s a bright sunny day and it feels good to get out of the house. On our walk I post a birthday card to one of the mums I support.
“Once I get home I pick up a message from a neighbour who was giving away DVDs. I had asked her if I could sell them to raise money for Home-Start, so she was calling to say she’d leave them at the bottom of our drive. I’ve seen the huge difference Home-Start makes to families’ lives so I do whatever I can to support the charity. Before lockdown I did a bucket collection at my local supermarket. It was so much fun and people were so interested in Home-Start and its work supporting families.
“In the afternoon I completed my diary sheet and emailed it to my supervisor, recording all my calls and contact with families. Generally you’d contact a family once a week, but it really does depend on the family and their circumstances.”
“My son sends me a video of my grandchildren. I miss seeing them in person so much. I’m dying to give them a hug. We used to help look after them, so it feels so strange not to have contact. I know everyone is struggling with this.
“It also reminds me of the importance of family, and of having a strong support network. We are all faced with reduced social contact and uncertainty, yet it’s the most vulnerable families who are most affected. That’s why I’m determined to do whatever I can as a Home-Start volunteer to provide reassurance, comfort and social contact to families during the pandemic and beyond.”