Single Parents Wellbeing (SPW) is a peer support group based in Cardiff established by Amy Holland and Rachel Cule in 2016. The group emerged out of Creating Connections, a peer-led project for single parents funded £318,000 by the National Lottery Community Fund and delivered by the Mental Health Foundation and Gingerbread from 2014-2016. Once this project ended, Amy and Rachel set up SPW supported by a National Lottery Awards for All grant.
We spoke with Amy and Rachel to learn more about the journey they’ve been on and the people-led approach the group is founded on.
In 2013, Rachel tried to find a single parents group to join: “I have lots of friends but none that were single parents and I was feeling lonely.” She couldn’t find a group so posted an advert on Netmums through which she met other single parents who began meeting up at weekends. She later met Amy who was also a single parent and working for Gingerbread on the Creating Connections project at the time.
They both decided that peer support for parents couldn’t stop when the project came to an end in August 2016. “We wanted to continue Creating Connections’ work and focus on the compassion and holistic element.”
They ensured continued support for mental health and wellbeing. Single parents are three times more likely to experience episodes of depression and serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia compared to parents in couples.
Amy and Rachel’s own experiences as single parents were a key influence on SPW’s direction. Rachel wanted to meet people with similar experiences, while Amy explains that after suffering postnatal depression then becoming a single parent when her baby was six months old “made my eyes so wide open to what single parents needed. I wouldn’t go out on a weekend because I felt people would identify me as a single parent. But I knew the only person who could help me was myself, and that being outside was good for my mental health.” This combination of experience led to SPW’s first activity in October 2016—weekend rambles with children and parents across Cardiff and the Vale. “The focus is on wellbeing and happiness, plus it’s free and allows us to make the most of the beautiful Welsh countryside. People are constantly helping each other. It looks like a big group of friends, it’s like a second family.”
The rambles soon became popular and Amy and Rachel made it clear to participants that they welcomed feedback from participants to shape SPW’s offer. Single parents have a say in everything SPW does, including its governance. SPW has three board members in addition to Amy and Rachel, all of whom have been single parents.
All parents have the opportunity to input to the development of policies on topics such as child protection to acting as a ramble lead or first aider, to “coming up with ideas and helping with the bits and bobs that make it work”. The rambles have continued alongside wellbeing workshops with professional practitioners to ensure dedicated support on managing mental health that proved so beneficial in the Creating Connections project. There’s also a range of additional activities suggested by parents—from theatre trips, art sessions and therapy, to mindful play, first aid training and camping trips.
SPW run sessions on weekends, bank holidays and around Christmas: “times when professional organisations aren’t open are the times single parents feel most lonely, such as weekends,” Amy explains. Weekend sessions also allowed fathers who are not the main carers and may only see their children at weekends to attend, and fathers have fed back that the concept of a ramble (as opposed to a coffee morning, for example) was far less intimidating to join as a man.
Peer support isn’t restricted to face-to-face sessions. SPW’s online presence has become an unexpectedly important platform for peer support and for recruiting participants. Its Facebook page organically developed into a live forum through which parents listen to and problem solve for complete strangers, allowing people to connect and seek support whenever they need it, including for people who live too far away to participate in SPW’s face-to-face activities. The Facebook group now has around 600 members, with five people a day requesting to join. SPW also has 1,347 followers on Instagram, and regular demands to organise rambles for single parents across Wales.
As they grow, Amy and Rachel are adamant that SPW will retain its compassionate and people-led approach, and a focus on wellbeing as a goal in itself (rather than employment, for example). This is crucial as they seek to grow beyond Cardiff.
In April 2018, SPW received £64,642 from the National Lottery Community Fund’s People and Places Medium Grants programme to build on workshops and support events for 50 single parents in Cardiff with support and evaluation from the Mental Health Foundation. A website will be developed with volunteers trained to be able to provide online support, advice and signposting to relevant organisations which will be launched in December 2018. The website will also include routes that have been tried and tested on the rambles, webinars, blogs, vlogs and podcasts. A really interactive innovative space for single parents to join.
The National Lottery Community Fund is responsible for awarding 40% of money raised by the National Lottery for good causes. We aim to fund projects that put people in the lead of improving their lives or community. If you would like to find out more about National Lottery funding for community projects, visit https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/wales