This July we are so thrilled to be able to showcase some of the supportive communities in our network, all of which offer so much to families in the UK. Our first blog for this month comes from Rachel Ellie Gardner, the founder of Forging Families.
Six years ago I became chair of Sheffield MSLC – Maternity Services Liaison Committee. We did some great work together with The Jessop’s Wing, the Health Visiting Team, Public Health and LIGHT. Our work was mainly focused on Maternal Mental Health. We had amazing support from the families of Sheffield and soon became a force to be reckoned with. The main work we did was through our surveys, which had an average response of 1,400 Sheffield people. The voices of Sheffield families were listened to at each turn and changes were put into place by Public Health, The Jessop’s Wing, Health Visiting Team and all involved in maternal mental health. The biggest change we helped achieve was helping to create a Maternal Mental Pathway for all Health Care Professionals and for mums, we were very proud to be a part of this. Another huge achievement was having our first ever poster, made with the voices of over one hundred woman and then put together by a sub-committee of ten women, put in the Sheffield Red Book. The poster was called ‘Debunking Myths’ and proved very popular with mums.
Two years ago the women in our MSLC group came up with the idea of putting together a video showing women and men who had struggled with their mental health during the perinatal (pregnancy, birth and the first year) period, but come through the other side to give hope and inspiration to families who were currently struggling.
The Clinical Commissioning Group were delighted with this idea but money was very tight that year and there was a possibility that the MSLC would have no funding at all. This was devastating to me and after two days of being deeply sad that our powerful work was going to stop I decided to do something about it. I turned to our mums on our facebook group and told them of our situation. I was contacted within the hour by a wonderful lady who told us of possible external funding if we became a charity. I immediately said “yes yes yes.”
The first step for me was talking to the mums and dads about this new idea of becoming a charity and we ended up all agreeing that this was a phenomenal idea. The fabulous Jodie Booth came up with the name ‘Forging Families’ – a name that immediately embodied our steel city but also that of strengthening and building up families. The name was perfect.
Then began the very, very long process of becoming a CIO – a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. After a huge amount of stress (that was mostly caused by my inability to follow simple instructions) and then the help and support of Sarah Birch we finally became a CIO.
We became Forging Families on the 3rd October 2016. I searched for the very best of trustees, Laura Watkins, Rachel Siviter, Rosie Knowles, Sarah Birch, Lizzie Rolls, Laura Neasmith, Alice Farina, Louis Randall, Jodie Booth and Roxie Marshall.
We were given £7,000 from the Kathleen Hannay Memorial Fund to do two pieces of work and we were ready to start. Over time our trustees changed and Sarah Birch became a charity officer within the charity. Rosie Knowles changed from being a trustee to being our attachment adviser and we have lots of work to do together. Very sadly Jodie left as our Chair due to personal reasons and Roxie Marshall left due to time pressures.
We still have our core group with Sarah Birch leaving as charity officer and becoming Chair and us inviting Sam Bennett to be our Treasurer.
The team was all set. I was the CEO, which is the fancy name for Lead of Forging Families and I love Forging Families and am deeply proud of the work I have done for Forging Families.
We quickly became known for our posters and in following our original ‘Debunking Myths’ poster, the majority of our posters were written with the words from our mums and dads to other mums and dads. Our posters give advice, a community feel, an idea of going back to raising children ‘as a village’ and we have made over 50 posters for our families. You can find them on our Facebook page or on our website.
Our work quickly became much more than the two pieces of work we had started with and within a year we had worked closely with the Clinical Commisioning Group and Public Health to help improve services. We also had several of our posters used within the Royal College of General Practitioners mental health section.
We focused on our posters giving advice and hope and we did our Forging Families videos of mums and dad mental health.
Since then we have had an astoundingly successful conference in February 2018 regarding maternal and paternal mental health and well-being. The conference had both excellent speakers and also workshops in the afternoon to get professionals and families together to share ideas on common themes.
In summary, our objectives are to promote and preserve good health among parents and children living in Sheffield and the surrounding area, in particular but not exclusively by:
a) Providing information, advice, support and a signposting service to parents during pregnancy, childbirth, the postnatal period and early parenthood.
b) Working with statutory bodies and healthcare professionals to assist in improvement in the provision of maternity and maternity-related health services.
We are extremely honoured to be giving a video presentation of our research into the maternal mental health of ethnic minority women in Sheffield at the international conference ‘From Birth to Health – Towards Sustainable Childbirth’ in Lisbon this September. This is being done in collaboration with the wonderful professors at Sheffield Hallam University.
Forging Families shouts with the voice of hundreds and hundreds of parents to help shape changes in the maternity services of Sheffield. Please do get in touch if you would like to be involved!
Rachel Ellie Gardner