This letter was sent to the project by one user in February 2018:
"From being in an abusive relationship and with an ex trying to turn people against me, I was no stranger to feeling alone and isolated. When I came to FIT with my young son who was only a few months old, I didn’t know what to expect. Locally, I had no family or close friends nearby like many others seemed to have. The truth is I was lonely, tired, and afraid that my ex had or would try turning the parents against me at local groups.
It took me awhile to realize this probably wasn’t going to happen, and over time I was able to speak to other parents, which helped build my confidence more. The staff were supportive and kind. They welcomed me and my son, and my son still enjoys going to the groups and being around the other children and some of the mums.
Before my son was a year old he started falling over a lot, there were frequent trips to A&E. It was obvious something was wrong, and soon he had developmental delays. The staff, especially Michelle was supportive and listened. I found strength from this as I was so worried for my son; words cannot describe how worried and upset I was, I cried often because it was heartbreaking to see him struggling. I was so scared he might fall and I wouldn’t catch him in time, I feared he may have a serious accident. There wasn’t a day since he started to walk that I didn’t have to catch him, I still have to catch him now over a year later. Extra safety measures were brought into the home to protect him due to him stumbling. With worry and tiredness from lack of sleep, and having to take extra care to protect my son, I have to say going to this group and being able to talk really helped.
My son has suspected Autism and is currently going through the multi disciplinary. I do feel FIT has helped him with his development. It has given him opportunities to walk and run around more, and to learn by watching other children. Many mothers suspected something was different with my son, but he was made to feel welcome and treated the same as all the other children, my son enjoys being around the other children and he enjoys hugging some of them.
My son has a best friend that he met at group and now visits out of group too. He is so excited to go on the bus and visit his friend. My son‘s balance is better than it was, although he still does stumble. He has started talking more, tries painting at group and at home by using the toy cars. He has started to like art which is nice as he seemed to have a sensory issue about touching certain things with his hands. He enjoys being around the children at group, and I love seeing him happy.
FIT helped us socially, with advice, support, and gave my son extra opportunities with messy play, mixing with others his own age, different toys, seeing other children eat around a table and singing songs with other children. I believe FIT works because the staff, parent’s panel, and parents make it work. There are many friendly people there, a wealth of information, experienced staff with genuine empathy, and dedication. With FIT, the children really do matter, and this was the case for my son."
Current Feedback from Users
In July 2018 the users were asked why they attended FIT groups and what made FIT unique. These are their replies:
- Because I feel comfortable in this group as we are all very close and engage. We practice ‘shared parenting’ and so I bring my three under 3s and I know that if I need to change a nappy, the other two are safe.
I’ve also made friends in this group and we socialise outside of group.
We have a Facebook page so we can all keep in touch.
I live for group days!
- The fact that it’s a community of parents all supporting one another and their children.
- Loving that we can all get on as one big family.
- This group is unique because we are part of a family. We feel that everyone supports everyone.
- That it’s a free service, the amount of support we receive and the structured sessions.
The way it has bought the community together.
The atmosphere of the group and how at ease everyone is.
That there has developed shared parenting , where we all look after and interact with not just our own children but each other’s as well.
- A welcoming group of different ages and backgrounds.
Feels like a community.
The annual events that have been put on have been lovely too.
- FiT is a community group. It is there for supporting families as a whole while children play. We are one big family hence why we love coming.
- My son asks to come to the FiT groups all week. Out of all of the groups we go to he feels so much more at home here.
- Meeting other like-minded parents and socialising our children.
- Because not having any family around and in contact with many young children, I feel it’s important that my son needs to have interaction with other children and it’s important for me to have some adult conversations too.
- So me and my children can see friends and also make new ones.
Helps us get out of the house knowing there’s somewhere safe for my children to play.
- Because of the nurturing atmosphere and because I feel it is important for my child to socialise.
The group helps my child to interact in a safe and respectful manner and will prepare him for school.
I also come for myself, the support that I have received I am truly grateful for, I feel a lot better about going to work.
It has also helped me find local mums who are going through the same trials and milestones with their children as I am.
- Because I gave up work to be a full time mum whilst my kids are pre-school and I wanted to socialise them early and did not have the money to do ‘middle class’ groups such as baby yoga and other groups that require a financial commitment.
Also I needed a social outlet for myself as it’s very lonely when you stop working.
Thanks to coming to this group my kids grow in confidence and independence.
- We attend groups as it gives me and my daughters a social life outside of home.
I also find it helps with my children’s development.
Since attending FiT when my eldest was a couple of months old (now 2) I’ve gained my confidence as a mother and am back at making lifelong friends.
My children are at their most comfortable place being with FiT staff.
- Over the last five plus years, I’ve attended many different kinds of play groups with my three children. I’ve attended private self funded groups and activities which I’ve found to be very costly for a stay at home mum. I also found the a bit “elitist” and also not very inclusive or welcoming.
We have also attended SureStart until the funding was withdrawn. We enjoyed these sessions as they were free and welcoming however myself and other mums were very aware that SureStart had an agenda and this was often unintentionally, I believe, delivered in quite a patronising manor often leaving mums feeling lectured to, publically shamed or ‘less than’. This group on the other hand offers a very relaxed ‘family style’ atmosphere where everyone is welcomed. Mums in my experience don’t feel judged. They are supported if needed and respected at all times.
The trips that are offered throughout the year are fun, educational and importantly, affordable. In an age of austerity and budget cuts I feel that mums in the Telford area are crying out for this kind of playgroup and social outlet.
Family atmosphere/one big family
Making friends (children and adults)
Safe and welcoming environment for all
No financial commitment/requirement
Building confidence (children and adults)
After working as a busy GP on a deprived estate from 1984 and seeing so many isolated mothers who were either single or had no family support, I was shocked that we had no local resources to support them, other than a referral to the health visitor who was overwhelmed and could do little or nothing to help them. By early 1990's I started to explore how to get funds from the NHS through fundholding savings to develop a project to support these families.
The project was launched in April 1995 after a year of discussion and preparation with experienced local activists and community development workers, modeled on a project on a neighbouring estate. Both projects became charities and finally in 2013 amalgamated to form one charity, Families in Telford (FIT).
The video attached to my project page was made in 2002 when we won a Health and Social Award and had the money to fund making it. We used to be funded by the National Lottery and Children in Need and used to be able to pay for a Citizen's Advice Bureau worker to attend one group, as well as pay for workshops that allowed some mothers that had never succeeded at school, obtain their first paper qualification, such as an Open University course "Confident Parent, Confident Child".
Since 2012 our finances have been hand to mouth and we have had to curtail our work to what we can afford. Our staff are very loyal and have even chosen to continue working rather than receive redundancy payments when funds were critical with no successful bids to replenish them. We were closed for a month only but have battled on since then. Despite our financial struggles the groups have thrived and we have so much enthusiasm from our users that 4 mums have become trustees of the charity and others will regularly attend committee meetings. Since 1995 the groups have always been free, new members almost exclusively hear of us by word of mouth from other users or their neighbours and we have always found the funds to provide on free coach trip in the summer. Most users do not have a car and rarely leave the estate with their children due to the cost of bus travel. The coach trip may be the only holiday their child will have during the year. The venue is chosen by the users and has been to the seaside in North Wales (a 2 hour drive away) or to a safari park among many other venues over the years.
1.To help families living in 2 disadvantaged estates have fun and develop play and parenting skills that can aid their preschool children as they advance through the school system.
2.To help develop parental confidence in their own abilities to learn new skills.
3.To reduce social isolation of families with preschool children living in the project area and develop new supportive networks between families.
What does FIT Do?
We run 3 groups a week, one of which is a mother and baby group and the other groups offer activities organized by play-focus workers to cover all the areas of Early Years Foundation over a 12 month period. The carers (mainly mothers but sometimes grandmothers or fathers) have to remain with their child and through sharing the activities learn how to become more effectively involved with their child's learning and development. There are also discussion groups on topics chosen by the carers that will run concurrently with the play-focus activities. The other component of our work is based on encouraging healthy eating and this can sometimes be the focus of the group but at other times is only through the provision of free healthy snacks to the children, such as fruit or vegetables.
The groups run only through the school terms and are held in the mid-morning for 2 hours or in the afternoon finishing before carers have to pick up their other children from school.
During the summer holiday a summer programme is held with 2 groups a week, often away from the usual venues of the groups in term time. A free coach trip is provided to a venue agreed by the majority of carers If this involves an admission fee, no family is excluded from the trip if they cannot afford it, with FIT staff discretely managing the admission with our own funds.
We hope to use our current bids to allow the provision of a new group for toddlers who are too active to continue attending the mother and baby group but would do better sheltered from the noise and activity of the general groups with older children.
If we are ever in the financial position to do more, we would look to providing workshops on areas of interest to the carers and facilitating access to Citizen Advice Bureau support for financial problems, which we have found in the past can paralyze a parent from the necessary involvement with their child's development needs or a behavioral problem.
FIT continues to aspire to research our impact on parental self-esteem or on the long-term influence on the children that have used our groups but have not found academic partners to help us with this process. We have tried to influence government policy on alternative models to the historic Sure Start models of the past but our communications to ministers fall on deaf ears in times of austerity. We believe our model of working with children and parents is the most effective intervention to make with families living in disadvantaged estates and we believe that we have had great success on a shoe-string budget over nearly 25 years.