“With so many volunteers having to shield we were in danger of closing but fortunately in Bracknell we have local community Facebook groups who are unbelievably caring and giving…”

St Paul’s Child Contact Centre (pre covid)

St Paul’s Child Contact Centre, Bracknell has been in operation for 28 years. We are a supported centre opening two Saturday afternoons a month. We were set up by St Paul’s Church as a community initiative. We saw a need, heard about great work being done in child contact centres and initially started with 25 volunteers from across the congregations and a few other churches.

Over the years volunteers moved away, grew elderly and frail or sadly passed on.  We did recruitment drives without much success. We recruited the odd volunteer here and there, with a few couples joining as part of their adoption journey, but most left after a couple of years for one reason or another.  A few years ago, as our numbers slowly dwindled, a colleague from a different centre suggested appealing to local Facebook groups.  We posted and had no response.  We tried again, but still no response. With very low number of volunteers, most of whom had been with us since the start and the majority in their 70s or 80s, it was becoming a real struggle to put together a working rota and many volunteers were working every session to enable us to stay open. 

Then Covid struck.  In the spring the churches were closed so the centre had to close.  Our Coordinator worked with families remotely during lockdown and eventually our centre reopened at the beginning of October 2020. Three of our most active volunteers had to shield and one had changed his job and circumstances. We had reached crunch point.

Fortunately in Bracknell we have local community Facebook groups who are unbelievingly caring and giving. NACCC shared a post on Facebook about volunteering at a child contact centre. We shared this to the local community group in October saying that our vital service was in danger of closing without new volunteers. We shared our website details and anyone interested could find out more about how we work and what we do.  As a result we had 20 people express interest. We sent everyone more information and an application form. That resulted in 3 new volunteers.  We could finally breathe…..a little. 

Despite being vigilantly Covid compliant at the centre, as the Covid case numbers and death toll rose in our area, I became more uncomfortable because I have a family with health issues and I finally felt I too needed to step back to protect them.

We decided to appeal again on the Facebook groups and one of our fabulously enthusiastic new volunteers helped us out with this by sharing our appeal with relevant groups we weren’t even aware of. We had 36 expressions of interest.  From these we received 13 applications, have interviewed them over the phone, and are in the process of getting DBS checks, references and scheduling them for training over the coming weeks. 

What we find so encouraging is that many of these are younger people working in childcare or in careers that provide valuable working experience, professional and life skills, as well as training and qualifications that can contribute to all we do at the centre, including in our Management committee. Hopefully in time, some of us older ones could even retire or at least step back a little to allow new ideas and approaches to our work to develop.

If you aren’t on Facebook it really is worth going on there. Look at your local community groups.  Every town has so many.  Join some and get a feel for the people in it.  Then decide where is best to post an appeal. A good recruitment procedure will allow you to find the right people for the role.

Maybe Covid has made us a more caring society, maybe there are more people out there with time on their hands and willing to help, who knows. But we are absolutely thrilled and very encouraged by the response we have had to our Facebook appeal. Child Contact is clearly a service that many in our community see as vital and worth giving up their time for and contributing their skills to. We’re excited by this and hope all of our new volunteers stay for a very long time. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and we are hoping that we now have a new generation of volunteers to move us forward for the years ahead.

Good luck with finding new volunteers.

Ann and Pam, Co-ordinator and Administrator (St Paul’s Child Contact Centre, Bracknell)

Why not checkout your local Facebook groups? https://www.facebook.com/groups/discover/

Ann and Pam have sent in some photos of their hall as it now looks with social distancing measures implemented.

“We use a church hall and chalk the floor into quarters and set up a table for each family with a mixture of activities. We put a table in the middle with extra games etc if needed. We are open for 3 hours and have one and a half hour sessions so that we can have more than 4 families into a session. Spare tables are set up to one side so that when the first family leaves, we can move the used table and chairs out of the way and put a fresh clean table and activities straight in so as not to waste contact time.”

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