A Mum of two, who then welcomed twins during Lockdown 1, set up a support group for parents during Lockdown 2, and successfully converted this into a Community Interest Company in Lockdown 3!
As Rachel juggled her hungry toddler twins, supervised her other two children and prepared a meal, somehow she also managed to log in to Zoom, and very eloquently tell me all about Parent Sanctuary, and their journey so far!
All about Parent Sanctuary and how it began
Rachel is very passionate about Parent Sanctuary and everything that it hopes to achieve in supporting the physical and mental health of parents and children. The aim is to provide parents and children who attend with a space to slow down, connect with nature, and to reflect on what’s important to them and they do this by organising regular walks in nature, which are combined with practical, evidence based support for parents – and sometimes combined with cake!
Rachel reflects on her experience as a first time parent, her eldest child is now seven years old but she still remembers how much she wanted a parent sanctuary when he was young! She said. “I wanted to be able to access things that supported my well-being; my physical health, my mental health, all those things that made me feel like a human – but were also child friendly. A lot of the groups that I tried, were solely focused on his development, rather than my development as a parent.”. Then the groups that were set up for parents, where babies and young children could attend with them such as yoga, were not available in rural settings and often meant and hour and a half round trip which was impractical with a young child.
Rachel recognized that as her children have grown older and she has developed more skills around parenting, she could offer something that combined her holistic skills as a nurse and as a coach, alongside her practical baby wearing skills (before Parent Sanctuary Rachel was running a sling library!) and offer a package of care to parents of babies and young children. This is where Parent Sanctuary was born – by pulling all of her skills together Rachel felt she could provide parents with a joined up service, which would support their needs. She had seen the benefits of being outside in nature on her own mental health and she was confident this would support other parents as well.
How has Parent Sanctuary developed during the pandemic, and what is the vision?
Rachel began walking with other parents in July 2020 when the restrictions changed to allow six people to meet up and go for a walk. By November 2020 there were 12 people regularly attending. They were proving by that point not only to be popular, but also to be vital to many parents. However, when the next lockdown came the walks had to stop due to local guidance. This didn’t stop Rachel!
”We pivoted and went online, and we provided a craft and sing along to parents who wanted (and needed) to have something to do. So they didn’t feel isolated and alone during the lockdown. We also used that time to make the decision to formally create the Parent Sanctuary, so that we could be applying for funding and allow ourselves to grow. We formed as Parent Sanctuary CIC (Community Interest Company) in February 2021.”
The beauty of what Rachel is doing is that she is an experienced parent and so in setting up Parent Sanctuary CIC she was running something that she knew her children would benefit from, and if they would benefit from it so would other people’s children. This group is engaging for parents and children, Rachel balances her role as a mum and as a parent educator to ensure that her children and the attendees of the group all receive the best.
“I see Parent Sanctuary as something that can be in every town in the UK. We can offer training to help other people develop walks, or go into schools and deliver wellbeing workshops. Groups could even look at the bigger picture, which is a ‘pay as you feel café’ with education, and parent membership, so that parents have got some where that they can go that’s warm, dry, welcoming, and not going to cost them the earth.”
Parent Sanctuary CIC wants to support families to make parenting more sustainable for the environment. In Kirklees, where they are based, they are aiming to work alongside the Kirklees Uniform Exchange, and charity shops to develop a hire service for ‘basics’ clothes, making sure that nobody’s children are inadequately clothed.
Parent Sanctuary are enjoying being able to facilitate local parents to run their own volunteer led groups with training and support. If you have an idea for what’s needed in your area, then do get in touch. We are hoping to facilitate support groups in rural areas like Holmfirth and HD8 covering infant feeding and other “must know” topics in the near future.
All of the support services that are offered will be done so through evidence based knowledge and research – staff and volunteers will be trained to ensure they are sharing and offering the right support. One area that they will be focusing on is bottle feeding and the issues that parents go through – they are committed to providing support to all parents. Rachel also pointed out that whilst evidence base is important to them, they also know and recognize that not every child will fit into that rule book but they can help parents understand and then make their own informed choices.
How can people, or other charities or businesses help?
Parent Sanctuary are trying to make sure that this business model of parents support is accessible and that it is first and foremost supporting the mental and physical health of parents. They are aiming to provide employment opportunities as the CIC grows and ensure they are a living wage employer. To do this they need support – any support that charities and businesses can provide will be used to support the growth, whether that be financial support, contacts who may be useful or networking opportunities!
What will parents get from joining a Parent Sanctuary walk?
Rachel explained that when people go on group walks, there are studies that have showed that it boosts mental health more than if they go for a walk on their own. “Whilst going for a walk on your own is brilliant, it is acknowledged that you are still trapped within your own head. The conversations that you’re having can be very one sided, you can get yourself in a mind maze, whether that’s keeping you down or keeping you up.” Rachel explained that a mind maze can often remind an individual of the things that they feel down about, and it can amplify that. Whereas if people spend time with other people on a walk outside, even without having the conversations, it can be a source of comfort and support. Parents see other parents having the same issues with their children and they might see them dealing with a temper tantrum and get a lightbulb moment of “maybe that’s the way I could try it next time”.
Parents are encouraged to ask questions and talk. Parent Sanctuary walks are not just about what is being provided but it’s about the environment of being with other people that is so beneficial.
Rachel explained the connection with nature really clearly – “The silence in a nature setting is therapeutic. The silence in a room with other people can be overpowering. So when parents are together and just walking in silence, they know that there’s someone else there, and if they don’t feel like talking, they don’t need to, and it’s not uncomfortable for either party to be walking in silence.
When we reconnect with nature, we reconnect with self. And when we reconnect with nature, the other thing we become more aware of its beauty and its magnificence, and we want to look after it more. So we do end up making more informed choices about the things that we’re buying or the way that we’re using our cars and, engaging our children in that. A five year old knows not to litter. So how does a 15 year old forget that?”
If other people were thinking about setting up some kind of community activity, what would be your top tips?
Rachel provided the following hints and tips to anyone thinking about setting up a community activity:
- Keep talking to people. If you feel like your idea is worth it, just keep going. You might not always be speaking to the right people at the right time, but if you keep on speaking to people then connections appear and you keep moving forward.
- Finding the right support is essential. Through completing the walk leader training and having the trainer attend one of the walks, he then found a pocket of funding to buy some fliers to publicise the walks. Parent Sanctuary designed the flyer and within two days it was in Rachel’s letterbox, because the right person helped move them further along!
- Keep the faith! Success does not happen overnight – it takes a lot of thinking, pushing, pushing, pushing and more pushing!
- Look after yourself! The trial and error of working to develop your idea can be draining – you are rolling the dice and sometimes you will land on the snake and sometimes you will land on the ladder. But if you know what your vision, or goal is, you can keep rolling the dice. The snakes are as much of a part of the journey as the ladders are!
- Gather evidence. Capture any evidence from the very beginning – when you get to the point of applying for funding, the applications often ask “What evidence do you have that there is a need for your project?”. If you have a system to capture and save the evidence from day one you will have file of evidence!
How can people find out more and get in touch?
Facebook Page: @parentsanctuary.wy