Home-Start helps families like Charlotte's, with help from a volunteer

Charlotte supported to “be a family again”

“Home-Start is all about parents helping other parents”, says Alex Wyatt, a co-ordinator at Home-Start Bristol. “We get referrals from all types of families, struggling for whatever reason.”

Some families come to Home-Start because they’re struggling after having multiple births in the family, or because of illness, disabilities, mental health issues, or perhaps because the parents are young or bringing up their children alone, or struggling without enough support.

One person who reached out to Home-Start when things got too much was Charlotte, who was raising her family in Hartcliffe, Bristol.

“I was a very independent person”, says Charlotte. “I never asked for help from anyone; I didn’t ever need any help from anyone.”

“I was a very independent person... I never asked for help from anyone; I didn’t ever need any help from anyone.”

-Charlotte Lewis A mother supported by Home-Start Bristol
Home-Start helps families like Charlotte's, with help from a volunteer

Charlotte had two school-aged children and a one year old with complex needs – including a visual impairment – when she found out that her next pregnancy was twins, born just a year after she had her son.

Charlotte was left feeling very overwhelmed. “I wanted to cope” says Charlotte, “but it was taken out of my hands. I didn’t have any choice. When I’d had the twins I suddenly couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t do anything. I felt vulnerable, isolated. We never went out anywhere. If we did go out it was an absolute nightmare.”

Charlotte’s health visitor made a referral, and Home-Start got to work finding her a volunteer to match with.

Alex describes how it works: “Once I’d met with Charlotte and chosen Chanelle as her volunteer, I drew up what we call a ‘focus of support’ with Charlotte, to decide how best to support her.”

Volunteer Chanelle, with the twins
Volunteer Chanelle, with the twins

Chanelle began spending time with the family every week, and described their first conversations; “I just listened to Charlotte. I found that, from the first meeting with her, she wanted what any family wants, which is to be with their partner, to be with their kids and to go along in life.”

Home-Starts supporters all go on a 9-week training course, and work with families on a befriending basis, spending two to three hours a week with the family. Their support remains for as long as the family needs it, and for as long as their volunteer is available.

“It was little things”, Chanelle says about how she helps. “Going shopping, going to groups… I’ve got to learn new things too. I’ve got to learn things about Ralphie’s disability and watch him grow.”

“It was little things... going shopping, going to groups… I’ve got to learn new things too. I’ve got to learn things about Ralphie’s disability and watch him grow.”

-Chanelle Thaws Volunteer with Home-Start Bristol

Charlotte and her family still find it hard when they’re out and about, dealing with other people’s curiosity and ignorance about their son’s disabilities. Chanelle has noticed the comments from strangers too: “People go, ‘Oh, is he tired?’ And I’ve heard it now for myself about Ralphie because he’s blind. You wouldn’t think people would say those things, but being with Charlotte and seeing it happen…

“Those are the things that have just knocked you and knocked you and knocked you. It’s not nice to be on your own in any situation. Even when you’ve got friends sometimes you can feel lonely. [Parenting] can be a very lonely place. Facebook’s an amazing thing – you might have 10,000 friends but not one of them phones you when you have a disabled child.”

Charlotte really values the help she’s had from Home-Start, and would encourage people to support Quartet and Home-Start themselves to support more families that need them. “If it wasn’t for Chanelle volunteering and helping me out, and charities like Home-Start and the people that help out Home-Start, then me and my partner definitely wouldn’t have been able to work towards being a family again.”

Alex says, “Rest assured that any money given to Quartet, which we’re lucky enough at Home-Start to receive, will be spent wisely supporting families who are struggling in Bristol and South Gloucestershire with a pre-school child.”

To watch Charlotte and Chanelle tell their story, you can watch the Home-Start film we produced for our anniversary on our Youtube channel. Don’t forget to subscribe!