I can’t believe that The Family Haven has been in operation for 25 years, offering support to families in need, in Gloucestershire. It has seen many changes over those 25 years and continues to evolve depending on the current legislation and the changing needs of local families.
The Haven Trust was officially opened in May 1989, having been in operation since August 1988. Initially it was based in Wellington Street, Gloucester and the project aimed to provide services to families in Bed and Breakfast accommodation who had nowhere to go during the day. In 1991 the first qualified nursery nurse was employed to provide nursery services to the families and in 1992 a qualified nursery supervisor was brought in to prepare the nursery for its first nursery registration.
News of The Haven’s services soon spread amongst other organisations and staff were contacted by many of these professionals to access the services to support families, who were not necessarily in Bed and Breakfast accommodation but had other needs that were not being met in the wider community. So The Haven spread its wings and began to work with families with a wide range of problems including disabilities, domestic violence, mental health, drug/alcohol misuse, chaotic lifestyles, isolation and poverty as well as child protection concerns.
In the mid 90’s, due to changes in the housing legislation, Gloucester City Council, where possible stopped placing families in Bed and Breakfast accommodation, placing them instead in temporary accommodation in the private sector. This type of accommodation brought with it a whole new set of problems such as poor standards, disputes with landlords, top up fees and short term tenancies resulting in multiple moves.
The number of families being helped by The Haven continued to rise and in 1997 we had to move to larger premises in Spa Road. The property had been a Bed and Breakfast type hotel and was in need of a great deal of alteration and refurbishment to accommodate our needs. When completed we were officially opened by HRH Princess Anne in June 1998.
Our support continued to expand and a range of more diverse services was introduced such as parenting classes, parents’ personal development programmes and alternative therapy sessions for the parents.
In 2001 we became aware that another charity called The Haven Trust had begun to operate in the Gloucestershire area and this was causing some confusion to supporters of both charities. As the other Haven Trust was a national charity, it became apparent that we would have to change our name. That is when we became a company limited by guarantee as well as the charity now known as The Family Haven.
In 2005 we embarked on two new major projects. The first was in response to a government initiative to tackle child obesity. The healthy eating programme was introduced to educate parents on nutrition, the use of fresh ingredients, the importance of five a day and home cooking on a budget. The other was the outreach project. This started as a sole project going into Gloucester Prison, daily, to meet and support visiting families and to tell them about our services. After three years we reduced these visits to weekly and expanded the project to cover other organisations in the local area, such as GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), the Salvation Army and BIBS (Breastfeeding is Best Support).
Around the same time in 2005 we saw a large increase in the number of families from Africa for whom English was not their first language and in many cases not even their second. As a result of these difficulties we started the one to one project in the nursery, where the children got individual, continual adult interaction to improve their language and communication as well as encouragement to maintain concentration and interaction with their peers. This project proved itself invaluable when in 2007 we started to see an influx of families from Eastern Europe, who also had little or no English.
In 2010 the banking crisis hit and the recession brought cuts in supportive agencies nationally, such as Social Services, Health and Housing. This meant that only crisis work was being undertaken and any preventative measures had to be picked up by the voluntary sector.
As funding became increasingly difficult in 2011, the Trustees took prompt action to secure the future of The Family Haven by implementing a re-structure, including reducing costs to a bare minimum. This included cutting some staff hours, rates of pay and one redundancy.
We continually re-assess the needs of our community and offer help accordingly. As recently as this year we have introduced another new project aimed at continuing support to some parents after their youngest child goes to full time school. The Haven Ongoing project aims to offer personal, emotional support to parents, to continue the progress made and prevent relapse into unhealthy lifestyles.
I don’t know how long the services of The Family Haven will be needed or if indeed there will ever be a time when they aren’t. I can only hope that with the continuation of all our funders and generosity of new and regular supporters we can continue for as long as we are needed.
Client and Centre Manager