Nicolette, co-ordinator at Avenue Child Contact Centre gives us a look round her supported contact centre in Westcliff on Sea, Essex. She gives us an insight on running this busy centre, working with her fantastic volunteer team and the impact on being the only centre in Essex:

“We have been running Avenue Child Contact Centre for nearly 18 years. We currently have fourteen volunteers who have all been with us some time. Volunteers don’t come and go very regularly here, so I assume we are doing something right! We are a friendly bunch, and I really think we consider each other friends.”

“Parents are welcomed by the coordinator when they arrive, accompanied by a volunteer who staffs reception and records their arrival time and checks their contact number. The non-resident parent is shown into the contact room, where they wait until their children arrive. There are always three or four volunteers in the room, which is laid out with a variety of toys. There is a mat with baby toys at one end of the room. We also have table football, Happy Land buildings and figures and a home corner which is always popular. We have two Playstations set up with some age suitable games. Children enjoy the scooters and ride on toys we provide.”

“When the resident parent arrives, the children are shown into the contact room by a volunteer. We have a small outside space, which we allow one family at a time to use. We keep the door open every session since Covid, to ensure there is fresh air. We supply sandwich lunches, plus drinks and snacks. We do not charge for refreshments but do ask for a donation of £2 per family.”

“We are open twice a month on a Saturday and currently have 10 families on our books. Since the second lockdown we have found our families have changed a lot. A large number of our families moved on to having unsupported contact then, and we have had a number of new families since.”

“Our mission statement is: We aim to enhance relationships following family breakdown, by offering contact in a safe and comfortable environment for parents who are not living with their children. Our families are usually happy here. Some, of course, come along very defensive, not wanting to be here, but for the most part they soon warm up and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in the contact room.”

“We are the only local supported centre. In fact, we recently seem to be the only centre in Essex! We are getting more and more referrals from the Thurrock area, which is 20 miles away. It would be nice for everybody if these families had more local centres to go to, as travelling to Southend on a Saturday is no joke, especially in the summer when everybody wants to go to the beach.”

“Our main issue these days is getting referrers to understand the difference between supported and supervised contact. Social Services are the worst culprits, and we get at least two or three requests from them each week for supervised visits.”

“We would struggle to function without our paid administrator who works 13 hours a week and is available to solicitors and social workers, as well as to the families who have queries or want to refer themselves here. Part of her job is to apply for grants to raise funding. Partly this is to cover her wages, but also to pay our rent, replace worn out toys and cover the food we buy.”

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