Why one mum wants to save Yapton Family Centre
Cheryl Carter, who has triplets, is one of the mums who set up the Save Yapton Family Centre group after plans to close all but 11 of the 43 facilities were announced.
Here she tells her story and what the centre means to her and the mums who have used it as consultation continues on its closure:
“I started going to the family centre after my health visitor told me about the breastfeeding support and weigh-in clinics on my home visit after having my first child back in February/March 2017.
“I didn’t know then what a lifeline it would be and how much I needed it. Not only did I receive a warm welcome, I was able to monitor my daughter’s weight as like most newborns she had lost weight initially.
“I really struggled with breastfeeding and this was the place I was able to get on the spot advice and feeding support. Having professionals there to reposition you if needed is far better than reading an online forum and being with other mums who are also struggling makes you feel normal and less of a failure.
“I even managed to get a hospital referral for tongue tie sorted just from dropping in with a worry.
“I vividly remember getting to the family centre in those early days and on one occasion feeling so overwhelmed. The wonderful Debbie, who quite frankly deserves an MBE for being such a hero, could instantly see I needed a moment and offered to take hold of my baby so I could just sob my heart out in a sleep deprived, low point. There was no judgment just a quiet spot and friendly faces. They’d make sure you were hydrated and always looked out for you.
“Having drop-in access to the centre gave me a push to get myself out of the house at least once a week. Being in walking distance from my home was also a great excuse to get us both some fresh air and being environmentally friendly was a bonus.
“I got to know other mums in an area that was new to me as we had only moved in just before Christmas and didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know anyone at all with a baby so it was nice to meet other mums in the same position.
“I had done an NCT course mainly to gain a group of friends in the same situation but in hindsight I didn’t need to as I gained two sets of friendship groups from the family centre; my fellow breastfeeding mums at Milk! and the group I met on the Early Parenting Course. We still meet up and message often, four years on.
“The information and advice I gained every time I visited, which was every week for some time, was invaluable and all the best advice I had came from my time there.
“I also had a first aid for babies and children course and a weaning course was set up especially on request by myself. This all gave me confidence in my abilities to be a mother. I was also able to attend Hartbeeps classes and use the building as a meeting place. I even managed to arrange a play date to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday there.
“I used other centres occasionally for their sensory rooms, antenatal classes and appointments but I only used a fraction of the services available. There is literally something offered for every need.
“As my circles of friends went back to work on different days, it started to become a little lonely again, which is when I started using the centre to attend Stay and Play sessions. This wasn’t just good for me but my daughter got a chance to interact with other children, learn songs and access different toys. We also had the opportunity to use the toy library which enabled us to do toy rotation at home without the need to spend out lots of money.
“When I returned to work I, regrettably, stopped using the centre but when I fell pregnant with my triplets in 2019 I was aware the centre was eagerly awaiting my return!
“Just two weeks of being home from NICU, our first outing with our six-week-old premature triplets was to the family centre and we were greeted with not only excitement but a genuine loving feeling from everyone there.
“A safe place with a team of trustworthy people, cuddles were offered aplenty on our arrival and we gladly handed them over!
“One of the weigh-in volunteers even started to help me at home and friends from Milk! have been a massive support during challenging times. Forever grateful Pippa!
“Having multiples is very isolating as not many people can relate or understand what it is like.
“Unfortunately my plans to use the family centre again to try to minimise social isolation further were stopped due to Covid.
“Although I haven’t been able to access the family centre doesn’t mean I haven’t needed it more than ever, along with all the first time parents missing out on crucial on site experiences.
“Despite my situation and history of mental health problems I wouldn’t fall into the vulnerable category that the Early Help Redesign is trying to target.
“Of course I want those families to get the help needed but I do not want it to be at the expense of everyone else. Maternal Mental Health is a massive thing and let’s face it, that is what most of this is about.
“If the budget has in fact increased, surely there is a better way to help us all with better outcomes? I fear it will be more damaging in the long run with more families suffering by going unseen.
“And as I sit here thinking over my time with the family centre, I realise that, in a strange way, that place is still managing to bring a network of people together. Together in the fight to save it from closure. Together for the next set of first time parents that we once were.
“Without the family centre I would not have met other mums, dads and children in my community before school age other than maybe a fleeting greeting in the playpark.
“Socialising both at the centre and then independently through those friendships is so good for my mental health and has made my journey into parenthood a much happier one.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I couldn’t agree more. The village’s Family Centre has made these connections for me and has made me love our village and our community.
“It means a lot to me and it will be more than a shame if other families cannot have easy access to these wonderful services and experiences.
“So whatever happens, I just want to say thank you to that little centre and most importantly to the people within it.
“I am passionate about this because they were always there for me...
“When I didn’t have a clue about how to look after a baby and wanted to learn how to parent.
“When I couldn’t latch my baby and I was worried about my baby’s weight.
“When I needed professional advice without the hassle of getting an appointment.
“When I felt I couldn’t cope and needed a shoulder to cry on.
“When I needed a support network of friends and babies.
“When my baby had no other children to interact with.
“When myself and my babies needed a change of scenery.
“When I needed to gain some confidence.
“When I had no other access to free first aid courses.
“When I was struggling with a minor problem but wouldn’t want to burden the system from home.
“When I was worried about my children’s development.
“When I needed extra support because I was now a preemie parent, a parent of multiples and second time around parent!”
Find out about the Save Yapton Family Centre group here.
Find out what other village mums think here.
The latest story from the West Sussex County Council debate can be found here.