Home-Start Wessex is extending its reach to support families in West Dorset as sister organisation Home-Start West Dorset was forced to close its doors. In a statement on its website, the West Dorset charity announced, “It is with great sadness we announce the closure of Home-Start West Dorset. As an independent charity, we rely on grants. We are devastated that we have not been able to secure sufficient grants to maintain our work for the long term. For 15 years, we have been lucky enough to have trained hundreds of volunteers and helped many more hundreds of local families. A huge thank you to everyone who has helped us over the years.”

Home-Start Wessex has been working closely with staff at Home-Start West Dorset to ensure the safety of families the charity supports and retain the dedicated volunteers in the area. Kathy Fryatt-Banks, CEO of Home-Start Wessex, said, “All of us here at Home-Start Wessex are very sorry to hear about the closure of Home-Start West Dorset. With immediate effect, we are extending our reach to cover West Dorset, including Dorchester, Weymouth, Portland, Bridport and down to Lyme Regis.

Our reach now covers a large part of the Dorset Council area, including the Purbecks, Swanage, Weymouth, Dorchester and Bridport and the whole of the BCP Council area including, Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. We also work across the borders of Hampshire and Wiltshire, going as far north as Cranborne and Fordingbridge and as far east as New Milton. The population of this area is over 600,000 with many pockets of high-level deprivation.”

The closure of Home-Start West Dorset highlights the funding crisis affecting charities, driven by issues including the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. Back in 2016/7, the majority of the Home-Start’s fundraising came from local authorities, the NHS and the Lottery. However, that funding dramatically reduced, and the organisation had to find totally different ways to raise the funds to continue.

Since Home-Start was set up 50 years ago, over 1.5 million children have been supported to have a better start in life. But society has changed significantly over the past fifty years. Back in 1973, only 2% of families were single-parent families. Now, the figure stands at 22%. 90% of those single-parent families are women bringing up their children alone, and in line with that, 90% of the families Home-Start Wessex supports are single mums. Mental health problems have increased over the decades, with at least one in four people now suffering from a mental health condition. Over 85% of the families Home-Start Wessex supports are suffering from mental health issues in some way.

“Our service is in greater demand than ever before, with more and more families struggling to cope,” Kathy added. “We see families going through considerable stress and hardship, including a rise in families who have suffered domestic violence, mental breakdowns and been forced into homelessness. We feel for our colleagues at Home-Start West Dorset who have had to make the heartbreaking decision to close. We are keen to do what we can to ensure that families in West Dorset can still access the support they need. Because childhood can’t wait.”

Since 1995, Home-Start Wessex has helped over 3,500 local families and supported over 10,000 children in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, the Purbecks, Blandford and Cranborne and into the Wiltshire and Hampshire borders. Their amazing volunteers offer friendship, practical support and emotional advice to families who are facing difficulties, including poor mental health, postnatal depression, disability, domestic abuse, bereavement, isolation and multiple births.

Yet their service is in more demand than ever. If you can commit to 2-3 hours each week to help transform the lives of young children and their parents in our community, please contact michelle@homestartwessex.org.uk. No special qualifications are necessary, and full training will be provided. Find out more at https://homestartwessex.org.uk/.