Funding to build centre and rebuild families

A pioneering centre which will support women in need to build relationships with their children is set to go ahead thanks to a Shropshire company.

Building work has begun on a brand-new family support hub at rehabilitation charity Willowdene – thought to be first of its kind in the region – with funding donated by Oswestry-based Aico.

Aico has been supporting The High Sheriff of Shropshire Dean Harris during her year in office, and she highlighted Willowdene as a charity deserving of a portion of their CSR funding. The resulting partnership means women who are separated from their children will be able to meet them in a comfortable, homely environment.

Currently women with contact arrangements in place would meet at designated contact centres, whose main purpose is to facilitate the visit. The hub at Willowdene will provide a range of support, delivering a one-stop shop approach to address the presenting needs of those accessing the service. The support will include interventions around relationships, substance misuse, debt, employability and much more.

The social enterprise was founded in 1988 in Bridgnorth, and supports adults with a range of rehabilitation and training needs– and runs a pioneering residential alternative to custody for women (the first in the UK); all of their services are aimed at breaking cycles of offending, homelessness, substance misuse, mental health issues and unemployment.

As well as contact arrangements with children from birth to 18, the new family hub will also be able to support children who have been adopted when they become adults if they wish to begin having contact with their birth mother. There will also be a support programme in place for pregnant women (some of whom may be separated from their child at birth), and help for parents of adults who are going through Willowdene’s rehabilitation programmes.

Director Dr Matt Home said: “Rather than simply facilitating a family contact visit, we want to look at all of the barriers there may be to building and maintaining a relationship – like homelessness, domestic abuse, or financial problems. It’s a holistic approach to supporting women and their families.

“Dean making the connection between ourselves and Aico has pushed the project along leaps and bounds, and the benefits for our students are huge. The fact there is a company who wants to be so involved is amazing, and I don’t think they realise the difference their contribution is making, we are extremely grateful for their support.

“Dean has been so proactive as High Sheriff of Shropshire, and really wants to make a difference and achieve her objectives.”

Dean Harris added she had been keen to support the centre given the huge difference it would make to the lives of the families accessing services.

“What I quickly learned when I became a magistrate 20 years ago is that there is rarely one issue going on in the lives of those within the criminal justice or social services systems, the reality is much more complex than this. The team at Willowdene are experts at running programmes which capture these complexities and look at the different strands of that individual’s life – and the new family hub is another example of this.

“Giving families the chance to reconnect and supporting them through that process will have a huge impact, and it’s something which has been sadly missing within the system for a long time. Thanks must go to Neal and the team at Aico for so generously supporting the centre, as well as Willowdene for the exceptional work they do in turning round the lives of those who access their services.”

Aico’s Managing Director Neal Hooper (pictured) said ‘Aico in the Community’ had been created to give back to their communities and help make a difference.

“Having been introduced to Willowdene in 2019 by Dean Harris, we are delighted to be given the opportunity to support Matt Home and the wonderful work he and his team do.

“The family hub sponsored by Aico will help Willowdene continue their outstanding work, helping their students to turn their lives around.”

It’s hoped visits at the centre will begin by the end of the year, with an official launch ceremony in March 2021. The project has also been supported by the previous Worcestershire High Sheriff, the Ministry of Justice, and a social enterprise run by Willowdene selling flowers and produce in the local area.

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