Every week, thousands of Home-Start volunteers knock on the door of a local family, ready to offer support, advice and guidance to the parent who answers. For the last ten years, 200 of these volunteers have been out and about, supporting families in West Dorset. Over the next three days, we will be featuring three stories from three of the ‘original’ families who received support from Home-Start over a decade ago to find out what they are up to now…

Helen Horsley, manager of Home-Start West Dorset, was the charity’s first employee when it began with just one desk, two chairs, and no computer in Bridport Children’s Centre in 2009. Previously a lecturer at Weymouth College, she’d always worked with children and was attracted to the role as it meant she’d be delivering training again.

When I ask what she’s most proud of having achieved in the last ten years, she considers the question carefully. ‘I’m passionate about the difference we can make,’ she eventually responds.

‘And I’m proud that we stay with families for as long as they need us. We’re not a service where, if the time is up, we go; whether or not the work is done. There’s less statutory support than there used to be, and we’re now doing much more to help families with complex issues, which requires our volunteers to be both befriender and professional.

‘And that comes from excellent training, which I know our volunteers value. Its scope is deep and wide-ranging, but most important to me is that we emphasise the need to be non-judgemental. That it’s a privilege and an honour to be invited into other parents’ homes.’

Day One: Zoe’s Story

Zoe Bealing used to run a teenage parent’s group, where she would stand, ‘as strong as could be and support them’. It was to her ‘utter surprise’ that when she had her own child at the age of 33, her world fell apart.

‘I had post-natal depression, which you can’t see coming and you don’t always know is happening until you’re quite desperate.’

At the same time severe eczema she’d suffered from in her twenties returned; ‘back then it had left me absolutely raw, head to toe,’ she recalls. ‘I’d spent months in hospital, swathed in bandages.’

The combination of post-natal depression and severe eczema robbed Zoe of what she’d always hoped would be a magical time with her newborn.

‘I was so poorly that often I’d have to nurse my skin in the bath for an hour, twice a day; and of course, I had to have Maddy in there with me.

‘For her first two years, she never slept for longer than four hours. It was definitely the hardest time of my life.’ 

When Zoe fell pregnant with her son, River three years later, she decided to prepare for history repeating itself; ‘I knew that if I didn’t give my health visitor a heads-up I might find myself in the same position and not be able to put my hand up and ask for help.’ At the time, Home-Start West Dorset had just started, and Zoe became its first client when retired Ofsted inspector, Mary Kou finished her training and was assigned to visit her.

‘I did worry about a stranger coming into my home,’ Zoe recalls, ‘until I met her. She was just so kind, and I immediately knew that she really cared. Soon, she’d disarmed us all with always being happy; always celebrating the kids. And for me, watching someone enjoy my children then allowed me to do the same. For it was the thing [that] I didn’t know how to do when I was struggling. I knew how to care for them but I didn’t know how to relax and be with them.

‘Home-Start is full of kindness,’ she continues, ‘and Mary taught me to believe that what I did was good enough. I became able.’

Mary ended up staying in Zoe’s life for the next five years and when I ask if they’re still in touch, Zoe grins, then shows me photos of the four of them. ‘Mary now lives in Berkshire, but we still meet up once or twice a year. For the kids, she’s very much like a grandma.’

These days, Zoe is a Home-Start volunteer herself: something that’s deeply important to her. ‘I believe that Home-Start is one of the last of a dying breed that’s able to offer genuine friendship, while also providing highly professional and secure nurturing for parents,’ she says.

Thank you to Jess Thompson from Home-Start West Dorset for her help with gathering these stories and images.

Click here to read Day Two

Click here to read Day Three