When Sarah Phillips was told her six-month-old son had suffered a stroke, family life as she knew it changed forever.
In her time of need, she turned to Home-Start Kernow, a small charity which offers support, friendship and practical help to struggling parents in Cornwall – help which Sarah says “saved her life”.
Four years later, Sarah has just finished training as a volunteer for the charity, and is looking forward to making a difference to other families needing support.
Her training, and that of nine other volunteers, has been paid for by a £1,200 donation from the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company’s Community Fund.
Sarah, 49, of Ashton, near Helston, said: “When our twins Thomas and Isla were only six months old, our son was diagnosed with having had a stroke. It left him with severe health problems including cerebral palsy, loss of sight and complex epilepsy including a potentially life limiting epilepsy called West Syndrome. At this point we needed even more support.
“My husband Steve worked full time and I felt overwhelmed and alone. At times I felt like I couldn’t copy anymore and had negative thoughts.
“But Home-Start gifted us with a lovely volunteer called Margaret just in time and everything changed for us. She visited us once a week and I can only describe as our fairy godmother; she was our ‘soft place to land’ every week, our ‘hooray it’s Tuesday’ moment’.
“She was a lifesaver without a doubt. She helped us to go to appointments, do activities at home, go to playgroups, she played with the children and was a very important listening ear for me. She gave me the help I needed with my children and was the light at the end of the tunnel for me, almost like a mum would be.”
The Community Fund donation of £1,200 paid for 10 volunteers to be trained as family visitors, part of the service offered by Home-Start Kernow.
Many parents feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the stresses of having a young family, particularly in situations which can make life a little harder, such as multiple births, illness, disability, isolation or post-natal depression.
A carefully selected volunteer, who has parenting experience themselves, visits a family once a week in their own home to offer emotional and practical support.
Alyson Smith, from Home-Start Kernow, said: “This support can be anything the family needs, including listening, playing with children, looking after the children so that parents can shower or rest, help filling in forms, getting out of the house to appointments – anything at all.
“We want families to enjoy their children and the main difference our service makes is giving parents confidence and skills. It’s like giving them armbands in deep water.
“We are very grateful to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, volunteers are essential to Home-Start Kernow. As a small charity we are dependent on grants and this has enabled us to train 10 more volunteers who will support families in the west of Cornwall.”
The charity helps 60 families in Cornwall at any one time, and is described by many as a “lifeline”.
Sarah said: “Sometimes Margaret helped me take Thomas and Isla swimming, which is really important for Thomas’s mobility but I couldn’t do it on my own. Other times, she was there as someone to talk to – the emotional support she gave me was huge.
“A couple of times she literally picked me up off the floor I felt so overwhelmed. But she never judged me. She was the highlight of my week, just knowing she wanted to see us and delighted in seeing the children.
“Thomas and Isla started school in September, so now I want to give something back to Home-Start. I would never want another family feeling the way I did, with nowhere else to turn.”
The Community Fund, which had up to £30,000 to give away each financial year, was launched in 2016 and is part of an estimated £1 million that the Steamship Group returns to the community every year through subsidised travel for islanders, NHS flights, sponsorships and charitable donations.
Sam Hicks, Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company’s Community Fund, said: “It is great to hear of the continued success for this fantastic charity. I’m delighted that the money from the fund has unlocked so much additional support. Well done to those involved, and thank you on behalf of us all to the volunteers who make all the difference to families.”
Since it started the Community Fund has awarded almost £50,000 to 35 different projects ranging from a new marquee for the Isles of Scilly Brownies and Guides Group, to a new CCTV camera to cover a blind spot at Cape Cornwall for the National Coastwatch Institution.
Bids to the Community Fund will open again in the New Year to voluntary groups or charities, schools and education establishments, community clubs or societies, and individuals undertaking not-for-profit projects for the benefit of the wider community.
Full details, eligibility criteria and application forms are now available from the Steamship Group’s website. All projects are judged by members of an independent panel.