"SMILE have been our rock"
This time of Covid has been horrific for Kelly* and I. We had a massive trip to experience - Kelly has only met my mum once in her life as she lives in New Zealand. She came here to meet us after years of no contact. Mum was so impressed with my parenting that she offered to pay for us to visit her and experience NZ for 6 weeks with a trip to Fiji for a week. This was all cancelled due to Covid.
I was so upset and let down from something that I couldn't control. Kelly was so excited, and I had put a lot in place to prepare for her trip. I couldn't work, I couldn't leave the house, not even for a walk. I couldn't even put my washing outside because of Covid. I am a TA (Teaching Assistant) and home schooling was so stressful. Kelly and I used to argue every day. It put even more stress on us both.
However SMILE gave us some hope: Rachel brought us chocolates, flowers; picked up my prescriptions; Xmas presents for us both; weekly chats; printed off school work; gave us a printer; organised food for us from the Food Banks; vouchers from the church. I [also] volunteered for yellow bags for six weeks.
I just want to thank SMILE for the love, support, friendships we have made, the fact that we don't feel alone. Someone does care and gives us happiness through a very tricky time.
What a journey this has been. I am now back at work full-time. SMILE have been our rock - somebody does care, somebody wants to help, somebody is there to spoil your children with happy times. Thank you so much. Natalie*
*Names changed to protect privacy
Our Facebook page and private group are safe ways for both new parents to connect for the first time and existing Mums to receive support. The group are increasingly providing mutual support amongst themselves, offering practical tips and resources on how to deal with daily challenges they face such as how to mend things or deal with challenging behaviour.
Although the regular coffee group was disrupted by the restrictions, we adapted the coffee mornings to meeting for takeaway coffee in the park. This ensured Mums still had quality time with others who understood the challenges they were facing as single parents as well as the chance to relax together.
The weekly Friday coffee mornings are the main way that parents new to SMILE connect with the group. It is also the core place where Mums receive face to face support and was essential to maintaining wellbeing during the restrictions due to Covid. The meetings were moved to the local park to enable people to walk in twos, so that even during the tightest restrictions, parents could still meet for peer support.
SMILE coffee mornings have given me a chance to meet and socialise with mums of all ages, situations and with children of all ages.
The wealth of knowledge that has been shared with me has helped me no end. It has helped me to realise that anxiety doesn't rule my life and that I can socialise if I want to. I now have some mum friends and my daughter is making friends and loves seeing everyone.
SMILE Cook Bags
We partnered with The Friendly Food Club to distribute Cook Bags to lone parent families. The bags include a recipe alongside the fresh ingredients to make a healthy, nutritious meal for a family. Meals distributed included: Rainbow vegetable noodles; pasta primavera; suet pastry vegetable pie and bread & butter pudding. A video was also published on Facebook for each recipe, ensuring the instructions were more accessible for children.
This scheme provided the opportunity for many parents and children to cook together, children to try new foods without it causing a great expense to the budget and the chance to spend quality time together preparing food, cooking and eating together.
Over the past year we have loved the food bags, it made us explore different meal options - SMILE Mum
Getting together outside in the fresh air has continued to be popular throughout 2020. As soon as restrictions eased and we could safely meet together, SMILE resumed the regular Wednesday morning walking and running group at Baiter Park.
During the school holidays we encouraged the children to be on wheels to ensure the group were socially distanced while enabling families to exercise outside together.
During the October half-term we organised a welly walk at Upton Country Park with a SMILE scavenger hunt for the children.
SMILE Paddle Boards, Kayaks & Sun
We partnered with the Watersports Library to launch SMILE watersports sessions. These provided the precious opportunity for Mums to try paddle boarding and kayaking, many for the first time while building self-esteem and confidence in the water.
The time on the water created a fun space for Mums to get away from their everyday responsibilities and challenges of lone parenting. The partnership with the Watersports Library is developing with a new initiative to enable families to join the library at an affordable cost. This to build up confidence with going on the water independently, build up resilience and create lasting family memories.
It's the best thing I have ever done! - SMILE Mum
Two Mums were unable to make the main watersports day to due to their children having to isolate. We arranged for them to have a SMILE watersports session the following week. One Mum had a long-term goal of paddle boarding to Brownsea Island and so they took the opportunity to achieve this!
Our Team Has Grown!
Due to the high need for support we employed a second member of staff to support Racheal in the running of SMILE. Lucy joined the team in 2020 and has brought her passion and creativity to the project.
Lucy ran the first ever birdwatching day which was listed as the best day of the year (apart from her birthday) by one young girl! This was followed by a trip to Upton Country Park where young and teenagers alike happily went without mobiles and tablets to engage in the activities! A sure sign of success!
It’s been a year of growth for us, not just in numbers, but also in our relationships, so a massive thank you goes out to our community of supporting churches: St Mary's Longfleet; Poole Methodists; Longfleet Baptist; St James’ and Parkstone United Reformed Church.
It’s because of this wonderful community, that SMILE have been able to develop and respond to new demands and ways of supporting families so creatively during 2020.
Good News Story: From Isolation to Volunteering & Employment
Laura* joined SMILE after first becoming aware of the project through a mother and baby support group. She later joined the group through the SMILE Facebook page.
After joining SMILE she found the support invaluable and attended all sorts of activities including Zumba, the coffee mornings, pilates and the retreats at Longmead Community Farm and The Greenhouse Christian Centre.
When the pandemic hit, Laura couldn't work, and all of the SMILE face to face support was suspended. Laura was left at home with a two year old and with no other company or respite.
Throughout this tough time, SMILE delivered meals to her and provided telephone support when she most needed it. Recognising the help given to her, Laura wanted to give back when she was able, and started to volunteer helping with the recipe bag scheme that SMILE had been running.
I said I'd like to help out as I wasn't working. I had been quite unwell with what I think was Covid, which had lasted about 3 months. So, I really wanted to get out and do something to have a bit of a purpose and to give back, to help other people in a similar situation.
It helped as it gave structure to the week, something positive and it got me out.
Laura continues to be an integral part of the SMILE family. She is now employed as an Academic Mentor at a local school, helping students to catch up following the lockdowns. Laura says of the support she received:
It made me feel supported at quite a difficult time. Racheal was really helpful. I knew I could chat to her if I needed to.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Looking forward, we hope to welcome all our new online members in real life activities, as we all venture out onto this new world safely. Here at SMILE we have always had a heart for supporting people with managing their mental health, self-worth and purpose.
This is true now more than ever. So next year we aim to launch courses that will build self-awareness, resilience, self-kindness and also teaching coaching tools to help peer to peer support among our mums. We will also plan fun events because we all need to maintain a good sense of humour, to find joy and thrive in this world!
Racheal Peck, SMILE Project Coordinator & Lucy Whiteway, SMILE Project Assistant