Christine Belsey with the Precious Jewels parent and toddler group she started 28 years ago as Marion Montgomery (centre) organises the party games
Generations of families have thrived through the “lifeline” launched in Cliftonville 28 years ago by modest “heroine” Christine Belsey.
Christine, 77, and her friend Marion Montgomery little realised what would develop when they picked up paintbrushes to freshen up Northumberland Gospel Hall in Northdown Road.
Having recently been honoured as a kmfm radio and Kent Reliance Christmas Hero, the grandmother has told the Thanet Extra how an idea that came to light while re-painting windows, led to the start of Precious Jewels Parent and Toddler Group.
She said: “Marion was up a ladder with a paintbrush and I said I would love to start a toddler group at the hall. She agreed it was a great idea and that was how it began.”
Christine has led the group without a break for 28 years this May, since starting it with Marion. Her dedication and work led her being nominated for the Christmas Hero award.
For 15 of those years, Marion has been a steadfast co-leader at her side.
The group meets on Tuesdays and has 20 toddlers and babies on the register. As the decades have swept by, Christine has welcomed back young parents who once attended themselves as youngsters and have then returned with their own offspring.
Sessions enable children to play with a variety of equipment, trying out different crafts and games.
Christine Belsey, who founded Precious Jewels with Marion Montgomery 28 years ago, is picture with stalwart pianist Margaret Barham, who has been playing for families there for 13 years.
Singing is led by former professional singer and pianist Margaret Barham, 91. She first attended with her daughter and grandchildren and has been playing the piano for children for 13 years ever since.
Christine said the group is “a real joy”. It engages those who attend to the extent that four mums who first attended with their little ones, stayed on when the children went to school and have continued to help as their youngsters have become adults.
It is a place where young mums, new to the area and lonely, can make and sustain firm friendships.
Caring for the families is part of the practical Christianity extended under the wings of the Christian Brethren based at the hall, where Christine runs the Sunday School.
Christine said: “Those who come can share their troubles, and we pray for them, if they agree.They often ask for it, as with one whose little niece has cancer right now.
“Particularly before the Government funded nursery places, we were able to offer help to the parents of new born babies, right up until they went to school. One mum recently said it was such a lifeline, being able to natter to her heart’s content, while the children play safely.”
Christine and husband Randolph, a church elder, have three children of their own, and six grandchildren, as well as two unofficially adopted “daughters” and their families
Party time at the Precious Jewels parent and toddler group in Cliftonville.
With other Christmas Heroes from across Kent, Christine enjoyed a visit to kmfm’s radio studio in Medway. Award winners received cash prizes from KM Media Group chairman Geraldine Allinson and John Eastgate, sales and marketing director at Kent Reliance.
Geraldine said of recipients: “They are all truly wonderful people who give their time selflessly to help others, what they do makes Kent a better place for all of us.
“How fantastic it would be if their stories inspire more people in Kent to do similar things.”
BLOB: Precious Jewels is at 29 Northdown Road, next to Costcutters. Parents are welcome to visit with their toddlers on Tuesday mornings.