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A safe haven for parents and children to socialise

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: September 08, 2012

Xen and Sud Joannou

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BEING a new mother can be a full-time job, leaving little time for a social life. It can be difficult to meet people, particularly for mums who have moved to a new area or lack a wide circle of family and friends.

But help is at hand thanks to a series of meets across South Derbyshire which allow mothers and their children to meet new people and share their concerns.

Mail reporter TIM FLETCHER and photographer SIMON DEACON dropped in to one of the Netmums Meetups sessions.

FOR a non-parent, attending a meeting of new mothers and their infant offspring may be the cause of some trepidation.

But if you were expecting a room full of screaming kids, bodily fluids, flying toys and other associated mayhem, that image couldn’t be further from the truth.

Castle Gresley Children’s Centre, one of the venues for a new series of meets for parents and youngsters, is an oasis of calm.

Babies and toddlers play contentedly on a large mat littered with a variety of garishly-coloured toys while their mothers enjoy a natter and some of the more adventurous older children head out to the secure outdoor play area to roam.

The meetings, held at Castle Gresley and at the Little Rascals soft play area in Bretby, are open to mothers, fathers and carers of any age and the vibe is friendly, informal and welcoming to all.

“One person who came along said she’d been put off going to another group because she’d been frowned upon for being a young mum,” organiser Joanna Wilkinson tells the Mail.

“It’s hard enough being a teenage mum and I will make sure that nobody who comes to these groups is treated like that because it’s just not fair.”

Joanna is ‘chairmum’ of the newlyformed groups, set up in conjunction with Netmums, the UK’s biggest parenting website, with the aim of extending the online support offered through the website into the ‘real’ world.

The groups also offer the chance of social interaction and the forging of friendships for new mums who can find themselves spending their days with only a baby and Jeremy Kyle for company.

“I just wanted to do something to help people make new friends because I know it can be isolating when you’re stuck in your house and you only have children to talk to,” says Joanna.

“It means people have somewhere they can come where their children can play safely and they can meet new people in a relaxed and informal atmosphere over a cup of tea.”

The group is of particular benefit to those who have recently moved to the area and therefore lack the longestablished circles of family and friends enjoyed by longer-established natives.

One such person is Sarah Smith, who moved to Church Gresley from the south west five years ago and is attending the meet with her two-year-old son Daniel.

“It’s hard to meet people, especially when you’ve just had a baby and you don’t come from the area,” she says.

“You have to go out and make friends yourself.

“There’s definitely a need for something like this and it’s a great opportunity, especially when you’re at home with your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Daniel loves coming here and he gets to socialise and meet other children — this place is just brilliant for him.”

Aside from offering social interaction, the group allows new mums to ‘compare notes’ and to share their concerns and advise each other.

“Sometimes you can wonder if you’re doing everything right, particularly when it’s your first child, but here you can get reassurance from people who’ve been through the same thing,” says Sarah.

“It’s about sharing experiences and any concerns you might have, and you can offer each other reassurance if there’s something worrying you.”

Ellie Davis, visiting with her 11-monthold daughter Sophie and her sister Madeline, says the group is ideal for her as she has just moved from Burton to Church Gresley.

She says: “We came here so that Sophie and me could meet new people. She gets to play with other babies and I get to talk to parents who are in the same situation.

“It’s hard to meet people — you see other mums pushing pushchairs but you can’t really just go up to them and start a conversation.

“It’s definitely good for the kids because they can play with other children. It’s important for their development and their social skills.”

The meetings are set to develop their role as a social occasion with visits by creators of products such as cakes and jewellery, so the mums can browse while their children play.

Entering a room full of people you don’t know for the first time can be a daunting prospect, but the benefits of coming to the meets outweigh any initial trepidation, according to mother-of-four Hazel Hensley, also from Church Gresley, attending with her youngest daughter, Charlotte.

“I was petrified about coming here,” she says. “Sometimes in the school playground you get groups of people and they ignore you — but here, everyone is really friendly.

“Because I’m an older mum and there’s a gap between Charlotte and my other children, I don’t know that many new mums.

“It’s a big help coming here and if you’re having a low day, it’s somewhere you can go and get reassurance that you’re doing all right and you’re not failing.”

Netmums Meetups groups are scheduled at Little Rascals, on the Bretby Business Park in Ashby Road East, on Monday, September 17 at 12.30pm, Friday, October 19 at 12.30pm and Monday, November 19 at 12.30pm.

Meets at Castle Gresley Children’s Centre, in Mount Pleasant Road, on Monday, October 29 at 1.15pm and Monday, November 26 at 1.15pm.

Previously-announced meets at East Staffordshire Children’s Centre have had to be cancelled but organisers are seeking another venue in Burton in the future.

The Castle Gresley sessions are free, although a small donation is requested for tea, coffee and squash, which is provided, while a discounted rate of £2.50 per child applies for the Little Rascals sessions, where under-ones and adults enter free.

Anyone attending is asked to notify Mrs Wilkinson in advance by emailing jolou88@hotmail.com or visiting the group’s Netmums or Facebook pages.

They can be found at www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/groups/south-staffs-burton-trent.html or www.facebook.com/groups/472629686081239

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