Two weeks today is a big day for me. It is my last day working for East Sussex Health Visiting and Children’s Centres. I have been immersed in Children’s Centres for over 15 years. A long time. On my first encounter, my eldest daughter Callie was a few months old and Lexie wasn’t yet thought of! My last day will be the same day as Callie’s prom. A long time indeed. So I thought that I would take a look back at my time there. I will break it down into small sections – as usual I have a lot to say!
It was Eastbourne Sure Start back in those days. The Sure Start programme was amazing. It provided much needed help and support to families with children under 5. In the early days, it only served families living in the most deprived postcode areas. I always saw this as a bit of a problem because we all know that your postcode / money situation doesn’t always equate to the number or depth of problems you experience. But that changed over the years so that any family with a child under 5 could get help and support when needed. But not only that – there were provided with top quality play groups (Often called Pop in & Plays) where families could meet up, experience excellent quality play and create much needed networks of friends. At these free, open to everyone sessions, parents had the chance to talk to highly qualified, skilled, kind, supportive practitioners; this led to problems, worries and niggles being picked up and sorted before they became deeply rooted and damaging.
So on to my story. When my daughter, Callie, was around 6 months old I managed to get to a coffee morning put on by Eastbourne Sure Start. It was one of their first services, the first in the area where I lived anyway. I said “managed”. This word does not quite convey the painful struggle I had to get my baby dressed and into the push chair to go for the short walk across to the community centre. During Callie’s delivery I had slipped a disc (my second. The first had resulted in an operation to remove part of a disc. The op has a fancy name which I can never remember!). I had been in all sorts of pain ever since. For months I could barely pick up my little girl. I had been taken into hospital, had the doctor out giving me morphine injections etc etc. I was very good at fooling the Health Visitor into thinking that I was coping ok and I was actually as ok as I could be. I did get through it but thank goodness for Callie’s Dad who definitely stepped up to the plate and looked after us both whilst still working full time. But despite my natural resilience and stubbornness, Andy’s help and the support of friends, I was feeling pretty rubbish. I can truly say that that activity with the unassuming name of “coffee morning” changed my life.
As soon as I stepped through the doors of the community centre I was greeted with warmth. The lovely Community Development Worker (CDW), Clare, sat me down and gave me a much needed cup of coffee. She gently took Callie out of her push chair and put her on the floor with some toys. I was soon happy and relaxed chatting to other parents and staff. Callie was her giggly self. (She is going to hate me if she reads this – sorry, Callie!)
Before I go on – I should say that the focus of these drop in services later changed. First of all, before anyone runs around shrieking, I should stress that it was all handled very safely. There was no danger of any baby or toddler being scalded by hot drinks. Just to make that clear! A while after, hot drinks were not served at these drop in sessions. Secondly – I said that Callie was set on the floor whilst I sat on a chair. In fact all of the mothers sat around on chairs whilst their babies and toddlers played on their own, together and with the practitioners. That all changed later when the drop in sessions became Pop In & Play sessions. The chairs were taken away and the focus became on parents playing with their children; lots of time, thought, knowledge and experience was put into making sure that these sessions were of the utmost benefit to the families. But, in the early days they were coffee mornings. And – I am sure that I am going to upset a few people here – I believe that they had their place. For many stressed out mums, dads, grandparents, carers (including myself) that cup of tea, coffee was the first and probably only one we drank hot for the entire day. At home, most of my cups of coffee were left cold and half drunk on the side. Also -myself and many other parents needed – yes needed – some time just to chat with other parents. Most of us spent 90% of our time playing, feeding, changing and thinking about our precious children. We needed a little bit of time to talk with adults, to get our sanity back a little. Well, I did anyway.
Another thing I feel the need to say (and it’s my blog so I will!) is that, on the surface, I did not look like the type of mum that needed the help of an organisation like Sure Start. I was married. My husband had a good job. We owned a nice house with a garden. I had the qualifications and experience to return to a good career when Callie was older. But I definitely needed help and support which I got. That’s why Sure Start was amazing – even though I didn’t tick the boxes I got the support that I needed.
So that was my first contact with Sure Start.