Every day in homes, community centres, offices, allotments, parks and playgrounds, Home-Start volunteers are supporting parents to enable them to give their children the best start in life. They are the heart of Home-Start.

Chris, Susan and Abdoul are three recipients of this year's 'Home-Start Volunteer Awards' and each helps us reach families in very different ways. 

The Baby Whisperer

Group volunteer, Chris Jones has a special gift with babies. Just minutes after being gently rocked by him, they’re fast asleep, giving the parents a chance to grab a cup of tea or simply take some time for themselves. Chris’ gift is so well known at Home-Start South Wiltshire family group that the parents have affectionately named him ‘The Baby Whisperer’.

Supporting families both in their own homes as well as at the groups, Chris was the Home-Start’s first group volunteer after Home-Start South Wilts started a family group in an area of deprivation in the city.

Chris said: “I’m retired with four grown-up children so I understand and have empathy for the pressures that our families are experiencing. To be in a position to offer guidance and support at our wonderful group is a privilege.

I confess, whilst support with breast feeding is definitely out of my skill set, I do appear to have the gift of pacifying crying babies. Perhaps my singing is so bad, they feel the urgent need to sleep as a way of escape. This leaves the mums and dads free to chat about specific issues, and hopefully share advice on how to overcome problems. I find it amazing that the families are happy to trust me with their children. I am so lucky to be able to enjoy their company in a safe place, which is warm and welcoming with the added bonus of parents and children enjoying something to eat and drink.”

Chris was a civil servant with the Ministry of Defence for 44 years and enjoyed a number of roles both in the UK and overseas. He retired in 2014 and started volunteering a year later, when he started visiting a young person in care. That experience made him realise there was so much more he could do.

Helping to keep children out of care

“I started my volunteering life as an independent visitor to a young person in care, which I still do, but when I saw an advert for Home-Start volunteers, I realised I could be part of a wider effort to keep children safely out of care. Since then I’ve volunteered with four families. They were all single mothers  who, until Home-Start came into their lives, felt isolated and abandoned.

It’s vital all families who need it are given the chance to move on with their lives with the support of a volunteer to provide friendship and the opportunity to get out of the house with the children and have some fun. As for me, volunteering makes me feel useful and alive, and pushing a Tesco trolley around the store with two kids on board keeps me fit!”

The gardener

Susan Conlan was recovering from breast cancer when she came across an advert for a Home-Start volunteer in 2016. Despite her cancer returning two more times since then, Susan remains dedicated to Home-Start East Lothian, where she has developed the Home-Start’s allotment into a very special place for families.

The allotment is a safe place. It’s a healing place, where parents can open up to each other and the volunteers about what’s going on in their lives, or they can lose themselves in tending to the plants and vegetables".

Wonderful curiosity

"I love to capture children’s interest and ignite a passion for gardening. To a child planting a seed may not be the most exciting thing to do, but if you cut some lettuce and pop it in water, they can see the growth quite quickly and it engages them.

Children have the most wonderful curiosity and they love being outside. It’s incredible to see children who would refuse to have vegetables on their plate be excited about the size of their carrots. It’s also given me great joy to see the mums visibly relax while at the allotment.

The allotment has also been a healing place for me too. When you are going through cancer treatment you feel like your life has stopped. But I know I am needed at Home-Start. Feeling useful makes a big difference to me and gives me the fight to keep going. I have a goal to get better for – I have to get better to get back to the allotment and growing exciting things with the children.

When I watch their little faces my heart sings. We have built the most wonderful community of people focused on helping children learn and enjoy their world. The work of Home-Start is incredible. It is simply about enabling people to grow. I’m so lucky to be a part of it.”

The digital designer

While 25-year old Abdoul Diallo was waiting to be matched with a parent, he still wanted to make a contribution to Home-Start Southwark and started helping out in the office. Every Monday Abdoul spends the day creating social posts, producing leaflets and updating the website.

Abdoul said: “From day one Home-Start felt like family. I felt accepted and that I belonged. I didn’t know many people in London when I first moved here. I was very quiet and didn’t have much confidence. Home-Start helped me to see how much I’m capable of, and helped me to build a network of new friends. I’ve learnt so much since I started volunteering and I’ve improved my digital skills. Every week I create social posts in Canva, I update the website and I use Adobe to design leaflets to raise awareness of our services".

It takes a village

When I was younger I’d take care of my sister. Where I’m from it was expected that the older children would take care of the young ones. This wasn’t just within your own family, but also the other children in the village. The old African saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is a very real thing back home.

After being in the UK for a while it hit me that it’s very different over here. There isn’t so much of a focus on community in raising children, and families tend to be on their own. When I visited a mum who was from Senegal to help translate, I saw what a struggle life was for her. She was alone and taking care of her baby. I also saw how Home-Start was helping her and the difference it was making. Home-Start was lessening her struggle and helping her to smile more. I’m proud to be part of a charity that does this.”

Watch this short film to see what winning the award meant to Abdoul:

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