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Home-Start in Greater Manchester – our response to Covid-19

How we are currently making a difference to vulnerable families

Home-Start is one of the UK’s leading family support charities, with four local charities routed firmly in the communities of Greater Manchester. We offer volunteer-led family support to parents and children in their own homes for a range of reasons- poverty, poor mental health, isolation, illness and disability, domestic abuse and much more.

Recent events- community lockdowns, social distancing and isolation and the lack of food supplies in local supermarkets has put an extraordinary amount of pressure on families, imagine how vulnerable families are coping?

In light of the government announcements on home-working and home-schooling, Home-Start has had to rethink how it’s going to support families now that our volunteers can no longer visit families at home.

We talk about the ‘Big Society’, this is not a new concept to Home-Start, we have spent over thirty years helping our local communities and the people who live in them. Coronavirus was not going to make us stop!

We know that ‘listening’ to parents is often the best form of emotional support that can be offered, especially parents who are struggling with poor mental health or isolation, so we had to find a way of continuing to help our families. When our home visiting support had to stop, our army of volunteers across Greater Manchester turned to the telephone instead. Now hundreds and hundreds of vulnerable families across Greater Manchester are speaking to their Home-Start volunteers over the phone instead of face to face.  We are also offering ‘walk and talk’ visits to some families where appropriate with volunteers and/or staff after a full risk assessment has been completed. What this means is that our emotional support- something that we have been proud to deliver for so many years, can continue. We are continuing to adapt and react to practical help required by our families, we are providing activity packs for children and wellbeing packs for parents and we are helping our digitally excluded families and have received grants to help provide tablets, laptops, phones and data. 

One mum supported by our Home-Start in Oldham, Stockport and Tameside said: “Home-Start have been absolutely amazing during this time, checking up on me and ensuring that I have what I need for the new baby while I cannot go out to get the things myself due to self-isolating. They are dedicated and absolutely amazing and deserve praise for all their hard work.”

We also must remember that we have some marginalised families in Greater Manchester, some experiencing destitution- which is often the case with asylum-seeking and refugee families. We have been able to respond directly to their needs by providing them with vital Foodbank vouchers.

This is also a time of huge worry for pregnant mums, we support a mum whose baby is due in April, she was extremely worried that she’d have no where for her baby to sleep, we were able to provide her with a Moses basket. Ordinarily this may have been a simple thing, but with shops closing, nothing is simple right now.

She replied- “Wow seriously thank you all so much, I was not expecting all of that – you’ve moved me to tears!”

Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Home-Start is getting corporate support. Our Home-Start Trafford, Salford and Wigan have been offered a pallet of nappies by Proctor and Gamble on Trafford Park. We know that supermarket shelves are emptying of nappies as quickly as they are being stocked. This is a basic need of a baby, and to be able to meet this need with corporate help has been amazing.

Home-Start staff, volunteers and trustees often come from a range of professional backgrounds- teachers, health visitors, social workers… Our Home-Starts are now drawing on their skills to support families. For instance, we have a family support coordinator who is using her midwifery skills to offer specific reassurances via telephone and Facetime to the pregnant mums we are currently supporting– as their routine face to face check-ups and antenatal classes have been reduced or stopped. We also have a teacher who is looking to support families via Facetime, (who are finding home-schooling problematic). This is what Home-Start has always been able to pride itself on- matching skills of volunteers with the needs of families- now more than ever this is crucial.

We are all facing personal challenges right now- keeping in touch with our friends and family members is proving difficult right now, and we are having to adapt to big changes. Imagine what this is like for a parent or child with Autism or ADHD? Our Home-Start in Rochdale is supporting parents to explain the changes to children in a more bespoke way. Explaining the reasons why they can’t go out or attend an event, needs to be clearly explained to reduce levels of stress and anxieties. Home-Start Rochdale is utilising ‘clear language’, a range of visuals and social stories. Importantly, Home-Start is keeping to their usual routine of calling parents at the same time and day each week- enabling a simple structure that our parents and children respond well too.

The next few months are going to change our landscapes for a long time to come, and whilst we have many worries and difficulties to address, we need to celebrate the human spirit and the very best in human nature. For decades, Home-Start has been privileged to witness how one human-being helps another. Our support has changed, (for the time being), we are having to be responsive and reactionary, but our dedicated volunteer army are rising to the challenge right across Greater Manchester.

Our four Home-Starts – Rochdale and Bury, Manchester, HOST, and Trafford Salford and Wigan are facing daily challenges as more and more families become desperate- physically and emotionally, if you can provide any kind of support so that they can react to even more families in crisis, please visit the Contact Us page

In the aftermath of COVID-19, we will need volunteers to support families more than ever. Whilst we cannot offer face to face training right now, we are still training volunteers in a variety of ways, including fast-track e-learning modules. To find out more about becoming a volunteer for Home-Start please visit our What You Can Do page