Home-Start Monmouthshire

Susie’s Story

“When times are difficult we all like to have a friend at our side, even if it’s just to listen. Home-Start volunteers work with anyone caring for a child under five who needs our help, providing that friendship in a time of need.”

My background is in residential social work and I’ve experienced some challenging situations, but nothing prepared me for losing my husband to a terminal illness in 2005 when my children were 12 and 9. I had to rapidly adjust to life as a single mum with very little family support and I found it hard at times, even with friends close-by.

I’m happily married again now with a lovely new bunch of in-laws but I can still remember what bereavement feels like, and the intense loneliness at times. Working for Home-Start allows me to use my counselling skills, as well as my life experience.  It has given me the opportunity and privilege to support and be a friend to people who may be feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

How long was your training?

My training with Home-Start took 10 weeks.  I was familiar with much of the content due to previous employment, but thought the training excellent and thorough.

How did you imagine working with a family would be?

We’re always briefed before we meet our families, and you get to see if you are a good fit with the families suggested, and I wanted to always keep an open mind. That way you go into it fresh. Home-Start takes great care to match the skills of the volunteer with the demands of the family.

Best thing about it?

There was a lovely lady who had lost confidence in herself; she’d recently lost her grand-father, a very significant figure in her life.  She was grieving and she didn’t really understand what was happening to her. Through talking about her life and what had happened to her she was able to understand how it had led to her not being able to look after her house, the kids or herself. In the main I gave her emotional support, but we cooked together and cleaned together.  I was a friend, but also I suppose, a replacement mum or auntie figure.

We’d go into a meeting and she’d tremble, and I needed to do the talking for her. But one day, there was the wonderful moment when we were in a meeting and she took charge of it and spoke up for herself. I really knew then that she had turned a corner; she had regained her confidence and her voice.

What have you found most challenging?

We all become friends with our families and their children, so you have to be aware if you’re moving into a difficult situation, of keeping, not exactly your distance, but a wider perspective.  You must be glad for small changes and not expect to see seismic shifts straight away: for instance, noticing more love and laughter between mother and child, mother sleeping better and having a happier outlook or that you just enjoyed tidying the toy cupboard together.