Case Study: Aspirations of a Community Member
One of the key themes identified by students involved in a Law School-led research project with the Wellspring Settlement, where they reviewed surveys undertaken with community members, was ‘re-imagining life post-lockdown’. In this interview, a community member describes the role the Wellspring Settlement played in providing essential support for her and her child during lock down - and her hopes and aspirations for their future.
When did you first hear of the Wellspring Settlement?
I’ve lived in Barton Hill for many years. I first heard of the Wellspring Settlement after I had my child. I was suffering from postnatal depression and was feeling extremely isolated and intimidated as a first-time mum. This was compounded by the breakdown of my relationship. You have a plan don’t you, a vision, for what your life will be like. Having a baby should be a happy time but I felt my dreams had been shattered - that my life had fallen apart.
How did the Wellspring Settlement initially support you?
My health worker suggested that I go to the Wellspring Settlement. I plucked up the courage to go and started to get out and meet other mothers in similar situations.
Being at the Wellspring Settlement opened up a new world to me. A place to go, put on the kettle and chat to people who were experiencing similar issues. It was also a place to have some time out with my child able to use the in-house crèche in the Family Centre.
The crèche was fantastic, and my child benefited from the hands-on nurturing approach taken by all the staff and volunteers there. I would go to collect my child and they would always give me good feedback and praise on how well my child was developing. They also credited this to my parenting, which was a huge surprise and sometimes emotional because of my then dwindling self-esteem.
After a while I started taking some of the available courses. The parenting course both nurtured me as a mother, whilst helping me understand how I could start to transform family life. There were practical tips about how to praise your child, provide constructive feedback, be positive in your discipline and much more. Also, what to do if you were feeling anxious.
I also took the Freedom course, which was designed to help women in abusive relationships. The course reminded those of us on it who we were, what we stood for, what we are good at and how we can be self-sufficient whilst being supported by the community.
How did the Wellspring Settlement support you during the first lock down?
Whilst I still wasn’t in a great place when we went into lock down, the courses I’d attended at the Wellspring Settlement in the months before turned out to be a blessing in disguise. All the mums on the courses say the same.
As you could imagine the courses had been extremely timely and beneficial, giving me and the other mothers much needed knowledge and equipping us with practical skills to best support our children throughout the lockdown.
How did the Freedom course help you during lockdown – and was there any additional support for you during that time?
Lockdown was hard. My ex-partner continued to disrupt our lives. Our flat had no outside space because the communal green was often overcrowded; I was on my own in terms of having to entertain my child. Being in an abusive relationship means you often blame yourself for everything. You believe the lies and the manipulation. I don’t know what I would have done without the skills I’d learned on the courses – or with the extended support of the Wellspring Settlement and the friendships I have made from there.
My support worker, Wendy, was a real lifeline. She would call weekly to check in with me. She was someone you could talk to about anything. She never judged. She was just there to provide advice and guidance, which she did as a friend. She helped me use the skills I’d learnt on the Freedom course to acknowledge what was going on – to admit that what I was dealing with was emotional, psychological abuse. I’d been in denial, and admitting it helped me grow in strength. Wendy made me feel valued and capable by reminding me that I would overcome all these difficult trials.
The Family Centre Garden at the settlement was a safe space for me. At the garden I could escape. I could book an hour slot with my child and we could use the whole garden to ourselves. He could play. I could sit down. At the time you weren’t allowed to sit in parks – and play equipment was out of bounds. It was really nice just to be able to sit down, enjoy the garden and relax for a bit whilst my child was entertained.
The Family Centre would make my child’s day so much fun because they would prepare the garden with different equipment. For example, have the water-play area ready on the sunny days or make homemade playdough. The playdough was made freshly for each family due to safety guidance and my child was able to take the playdough home at the end of the session.
The friendships you had made with other mothers are clearly important to you. How did you keep in touch with them during lock down?
Some of us mothers set up a What’s App group, this was also important as I felt I was still in contact with the wider community – particularly the people I’d met at the Wellspring Settlement before lockdown. We used Facetime, so our kids could still see each other. And the Wellspring Settlement also had regular story time and song sessions online for the kids. My child enjoyed watching story time and seeing the familiar faces of the Family Centre crèche workers.
This was really important. My child, who was just a toddler at the time, was finding it really difficult being at home. As an active child who needs lots of exercise, it was difficult for them to understand why their freedom had been taken away. My child would get really upset if we were outside a friend’s house and unable to go in and play, or when we passed parks that were locked.
As we go into a further lockdown, how are things for you now – and what are your hopes for your future?
Things are getting better now. My child is back at nursery, and really loving it. I am still in the healing cycle, the grief cycle, but feel I am coming out the other end. Previously I’d been a workaholic, but whilst I want to return to work, I am going to take my time because I haven’t fully processed everything I have been through. Whether this will be done through counseling or not, I want to be completely ready for any future work commitments.
In the longer term, I want to make my child proud. I want to show him who I am, a grafter, someone who can feel a sense of achievement, someone who has lived through this and come back stronger. I know that will take time but am aiming to go back to work when my child starts school next September 2021.
This year I’ve had to re-evaluate my whole life. But the Wellspring Settlement and the community there have made me feel valued and treasured as a human being. I live day to day, but I have a much-improved my self-esteem. I am shaking off the guilt of dealing with a failed relationship and I am able to manage the needs for my child and me.
As Wendy would say, the glass is definitely more than half full. I am so grateful for all the support I have received; I know all the other mums would agree with me. I hope other parents get to experience this service because it has enriched my child’s life and mine greatly.
The Wellspring Settlement project page provides more information on the research project, the student researchers and the University's ambition as a civic organisation.