Published: 06:00, 16 May 2020
Hundreds of families are expected to go without vital help as a long-running charity has been forced to close.
For 28 years, Home-Start Canterbury and Coastal has supported parents across the city, Herne Bay and Whitstable facing tough times due to bereavement, multiple births, post-natal depression and other illnesses.
But last week the organisation - supported by 30 volunteers and five paid members of staff - took the difficult decision to shut down after failing in its desperate efforts to find funding.
Trustee Stephen Askew says the closure will affect families who are struggling but have not yet found themselves “in crisis”.
“It will be tough for a lot of people,” he said. “They won’t have anybody - there won’t be many places to go.”
Until now, families in need were referred to Home-Start, where they were matched with a trained volunteer.
“Sometimes it’s just a single mum who can’t drive who lives in a village, and needs somebody to take her shopping once a week,” said Mr Askew. “That’s not going to happen now.
“If they don’t get support they will go into crisis. Mental health is a real risk.
“I don’t see who’s going to provide preventative services in the future. Within social services there is early help, but they’re swamped, and inevitably drawn to the more severe cases.”
“There’s no-one picking up the families that just need a little bit of help.”
Mum-of-three Lucy Toner, from Herne Bay, was referred to Home-Start after struggling with depression following the birth of identical twins Evie and Esme.
“Evie had a stroke around birth that left her blind and with cerebral palsy and epilepsy,” said Mrs Toner. “I’d never suffered from depression or anxiety before, but when you have a child with a disability, everything is blown out of the water.
"If this service isn't here, people are not going to cope..."
“When it was confirmed she’s severely disabled - that she’s going to be wheelchair-bound, and she’s not going to be able to speak - it was really difficult.”
Evie’s NHS key worker referred Mrs Toner to Home-Start, where she was matched with family advice worker Nikki.
“She was just like a ray of sunshine,” said the mum. “It really helped me through a really difficult time. If this service isn’t here, people are not going to cope. They’re going to end up having a lot of mental health problems.
“I feel very sad that it has now closed its doors. It’s so important, now more than ever, that people have support.
“Especially when they come out of the lockdown, which will have tested people beyond their normal day-to-day trials.”
In March, Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield highlighted the need for services such as Home-Start during a speech in Parliament.
She said: “In my view, now would be precisely the worst time for Canterbury to be losing such a resource, and what’s particularly frustrating is that the sums needed to keep it running are relatively small.”
It cost £80,000 a year for Home-Start in Canterbury to deliver its core service, while a further £20,000 a year would have allowed it to continue with additional support sessions.
But when its six years of Big Lottery funding ended, staff struggled to secure more despite applying to more than 50 organisations for help.
“Maybe charities like this have run their time - maybe it is time for larger services,” said Mr Askew.
“But I think it is very sad.”
More by this authorLydia Chantler-Hicks