In the garden of Erdington Six Ways Baptist Church sits 79-year-old Enid Howles, alongside two of the people she has helped in 23 years spent as a Home-Start volunteer.
Enid, who has helped 26 families in total, seems reluctant to blow her own trumpet and talk about the work she has done, but thankfully 38-year-old Ross Purchase, a single dad-of-two, and mum-of-four Anh Quach, 60, are happy to sing her praises.
Both parents have lived through difficult circumstances, however when Enid, Home-Start’s oldest volunteer, arrived on the scene, she helped them find hope and joy despite their tragedy and stresses.
“I lost my partner Helen in 2014 and we were introduced to Enid through Home-Start,” Ross explains. “It gave me a bit more time [to grieve] and also helped make sure the children were both getting what they needed. But it has continued to be such a great thing.”
Enid is one of almost 200 Home-Start volunteers working in the Birmingham area. It’s a lesser-known national charity with a huge impact, currently offering emotional and practical support to 500 families and more than 1,200 children in that one area alone.
Enid supports families in Erdington and has helped Ross and his two boys for the past two years now, after their mum died from an epileptic seizure. She visits the family once a week, spending a couple of hours playing with Leon, 12, and Jacob, six, and helping them with their homework.
This gives Ross the opportunity to have some much-needed time for himself. The service isn’t a form of childcare, as parents have to stay in the house when volunteers are visiting, but it is still a key opportunity for Ross to take time out and find a moment of peace, or just catch up on some life admin.
Ross is also supported by 51-year-old Leroy Brown, who first went to Home-Start for help because he wanted to use the food bank, but then later became a volunteer to “give back”. Together, Leroy and Enid provide Ross, a former drug addict, with crucial and, perhaps most importantly, non-judgmental support so he can be the best father to his boys.
While Enid helps with the kids, Leroy helps Ross cope with his wife’s death. Leroy lost both his parents in recent times and is a former addict, so the pair have much in common.
The thinking behind Home-Start is that parents who are properly supported will raise children who are less likely to end up in the care system. This is something that Enid firmly believes in, having worked in childcare for most of her life before retiring. She says she loves “seeing the families grow and sharing their experiences”.
“It’s a relief knowing that if there’s anything I’ve felt behind with, that sometimes it can be picked up by Enid and she then deals with that,” Ross adds. “She’ll help as best she can.”
Anh Quach, 60, was the first person Enid helped when she started volunteering for Home-Start. Back then Anh was rushed off her feet looking after four children all under the age of five - with the youngest being just one month old - while trying to run a business with her husband. Enid would spend a couple of hours a week with the family, keeping the kids occupied so Anh could take time out.
“I was struggling to cope,” she recalls. “I had four young children, one with special needs. Enid was very good with the children. When she came I could have hours to do something else. I’d get to tidy the house or do something I wanted to do.”
Despite 22 years passing by, Enid still visits Anh and her family on their birthdays and at Christmas. It’s a ritual that clearly means a lot to them.
When Ross is asked if he sees Enid as a friend more than a volunteer, he leans on his walking stick and smiles: “I count Enid as part of the family.”
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