Margaret O’Connor the Senior Co-ordinator at Home-Start Hounslow was with us on Sunday, to tell us about their work. She knows a number of St John’s people through her living locally. For some years, part of our harvest produce has been donated to Home-Start Hounslow. And we also meet sometimes at Atfield House, where Margaret’s mother lives.
She told us how her involvement with Home-Start began. About 12 years ago, she became a volunteer and through that, things developed. A volunteer is allocated to a local family who has requested support. That will mean a weekly visit, say 2-3 hours and may involve some practical help and emotional support. Home-Start supports families coping with many issues including disability, mental health difficulties, bereavement and survivors of domestic violence. The volunteer might help encourage activities or to allow the parent some space.
She confirmed that in Hounslow the level of need is considerable. With increasing numbers here from abroad, they are quite often here without family or friends to offer support. The economic situation has made things worse and in some cases, there is real hardship. Home-Start very much works with Social Services and other agencies.
Although part of a national charity, each Home-Start is independent and has to raise its own funds. The Council currently makes a grant. In Hounslow, there are presently around 30 volunteers but are always looking to increase their number. The first requirement is to have had some experience in parenting. There are the usual checks and then there is a 9 session training programme. Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds, across the age range, offering life experience and varied skills.