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Monday, January 30, 2023

Children in Need: 'Women's centre supported me in chaotic time'

A west Belfast mother has praised a local women’s centre for providing support during a “very chaotic and stressful” time.

Footprints Women’s Centre has been delivering services for families in the Colin area since 1991.

Kate said that she was reluctant to seek help in case people thought she could not care for her children.

Isobel Loughran, chief executive of Footprints, said they had worked hard to “remove this stigma”.

The BBC’s Children in Need has been working with the centre for about 20 years.

Kate, a single mother of two children with additional needs, found herself in a stressful position when the pandemic hit.

“I was suffering with my mental health and I was looking for somewhere to turn to,” she said.

“I saw about the centre on Facebook and a few people had said to me that it was brilliant, so I registered and I am so glad I did.”

‘Ashamed to ask’

Kate’s first interactions with the centre were done virtually due to restrictions.

“I joined the Ma’s project. It gave me time to talk with other mothers about topics or engage in activities or simply socialise.

“It started off on Zoom but it was good to see the girls and we just couldn’t wait to get into the building.”

Kitchen at Footprints Women's centre

For many years, Kate felt that she needed support but felt ashamed to ask for it.

“I thought people would think that I couldn’t take care of my children or provide for my children.

“I worked all my life in childcare, I left work a year ago in August because everything was getting on top of me. I needed to take time for my children and get them help.”

She said attending Footsteps changed everything.

“It was so good for my mental health. I was able to put my youngest into the creche which meant I was able to take part in a food hygiene course,” she said.

“Then there is the social supermarket, which is just brilliant. Some weeks I would not be as well off and it is great to be able to pick up the essentials for good prices.”

What is a ‘social supermarket’?

The Footprints Social Supermarket first opened its doors in November 2017 to offer a range of discounted food for families in the area.

“Ours was the first. We are very proud because there have been other models that have opened off the back of that,” said chief executive Isobel Loughran.

“During Covid it grew. We got a chill van able to pick up and deliver.

“We formed partnerships with local schools, setting up breakfast clubs and pop up shops in local hostels.”

The social supermarket had diverted 60 tonnes of food from landfill in two years, the equivalent of 145,000 meals to families in food poverty.

Sustainability Manager Eileen Wilson, Family Empowerment Coordinator Maelíosa Cahill and CEO Isobel Loughran

Now with her youngest child starting nursery, Kate has applied to volunteer at the kitchen in the centre to “give back” and has been encouraging others to use the service.

Ms Loughran said: “We have tried to remove the stigmas of centres.

“We have created an atmosphere and culture of empowerment, where women can come in with a lot of stresses and just relax.

“We have the park for the children as well as our community orchard and gardens, we even have won a Green Flag for our site, which is a big thing for this area that the tourist industry is sending people to Poleglass.

“Children in Need has been core to supporting our service over the last few years, empowering women and families in this area which has high levels of poverty.”

Learning about budgeting

The centre has also created employment through their day-care service, with 17 posts.

“Our day-care is there for working parents, those that need respite and we also support social services.”

A partnership between Children in Need and Money Heroes has also been teaching children at Footprints about the importance of budgeting. Young children at the centre are given money in envelopes of differing amounts.

“It was teaching them how to work on a budget, how to pick the right nutritious food and so how it feels to have more or less money,” said Ms Loughran.

“With the cost of living crisis, this is only more important.”

Children in Need, which supports hundreds of projects in Northern Ireland, is best known for its appeal night which was first broadcast in November 1980.

Last year’s appeal raised almost £40m across the UK. This year’s – the Great SPOTacular appeal – will be broadcast on BBC One from 19:00 GMT on Friday.

It will be hosted by Ade Adepitan, Mel Giedroyc, Alex Scott, Chris Ramsey and Jason Manford from London, with Connor Phillips and Holly Hamilton presenting updates from Northern Ireland.

The pair will also front an hour-long highlights show on BBC One Northern Ireland and BBC iPlayer at 11:00 on Sunday.

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