Home-Start Camden: connecting families and strengthening communities by Catherine Pymar

Home-Start Camden is a local charity that works to support families across the borough. Based in Kentish Town, the organisation has been running for over 20 years, helping local residents with young children when they are going through a difficult time. Each year we support around 120 families and train over 45 volunteers. The key to our success is providing a listening ear, non-judgemental support and carefully matching families with volunteers. A child’s early years are critical, and through our work we help them to have the best start in life.

Camden is an incredibly diverse borough; and we work with people from across the community. The volunteer training is a unifying experience for all those involved. Parents come together to share their skills, knowledge and expertise. There is a collective aim shared by all, to support another family in their time of need.

Once the volunteer training is complete we carefully match them with a local family who they then provide home-based peer-to-peer support to. The role of the volunteer can vary depending on the needs of the family they are working with, from practical help accessing services, appointments and drop-ins to emotional support. But all the families and volunteers have one thing in common, the relationship is built on trust.

As well as providing a helping hand to the family they are matched with, the volunteer benefits from additional training opportunities and CV development. For those volunteers who have primarily been stay-at-home mums, this offers an opportunity for them to develop their skill-set, as one volunteer recently told us “HSC [helped] to boost my confidence and it helped me get my job”.

Families are referred to Home-Start Camden for a range of reasons, often the family is experiencing one or more of the following situations: isolation, post-natal depression, physical or mental health conditions, domestic violence or multiple births. Many families are in unsuitable housing and surviving on a very low income. But loneliness, post-natal depression and domestic violence can impact families regardless of socio-economic background.

Referrals are made by health and statutory services, other voluntary sector organisations or people can self-refer. The support we provide is flexible and based on the needs the family has identified. The volunteers understand how hard it can be with a young child. They work alongside the families, in their own homes, to help them cope with the stresses they’re going through and make sure they have the skills, confidence and strength they need to support their children. The service makes a real difference to people’s lives, as we are regularly told by the families! As one said, Home Start Camden was “a hugely positive and beneficial resource, a completely unique and life changing experience that is beyond quantifying in value”.

The work we do helps to forge links across the community, sharing knowledge and developing friendships. Our expertise in supporting families means that our service is in high demand, and we’ve seen that demand grow over the years. To help us to continue to run for a further 20 years and more, we are looking to build our network and partner with organisations in Camden. This year we are supported by VWV law firm, and Wates Group, who are fundraising, sharing skills and expertise, giving in-kind support/donations and volunteering with Home-Start Camden.

We would like to reach out to Knowledge Quarter partners who are looking to support a local charity to find out more about the work we do and the ways in which you can get involved to support us. For more information visit our website www.homestartcamden.org.uk or call 020 7424 1652.

About the author

Catherine Pymar is the Scheme Manager at Home-Start Camden.