Lifeline for single parent families

Thousands of single parent families suffering isolation throughout Norfolk are being thrown a lifeline with the launch of a new support group with a strong South Norfolk connection.

Thousands of single parent families suffering isolation throughout Norfolk are being thrown a lifeline with the launch of a new support group with a strong South Norfolk connection.

Julie Briggs from Hethersett is chair of the newly formed Norwich and Norfolk Gingerbread group, which already has 30 members since being launched under a month ago.

There are almost 17,000 lone parent families in Norfolk with 1,747 in South Norfolk and the new group is looking to offer practical and emotional support for as many of these people as possible as Julie explained:

“It is often difficult for lone parents to meet and for their children to play together and share experiences. Bringing up children on your own with the everyday responsibility resting on one set of shoulders can be very stressful. You can find yourself very isolated with nobody to share ideas, vent anxieties or even share your child's new and exciting developments with. Gingerbread aims to provide company, fun activities, support and advice to lone parent families all over Norfolk.”

Already Gingerbread Norwich and Norfolk is holding weekly Saturday meetings from 2 to 4 p.m at Clover Hill Village Hall in Bowthorpe with toys and crafts for toddlers, games and music for young children and pool, table tennis, drinks and snacks for teenagers. Lone parents are able to make new friends and support each other. In addition the group enjoys monthly fun away days, parent nights out and is also planning a group holiday in October.

Norwich and Norfolk Gingerbread has been set-up by Julie, Jenny Blade from Caister and Louise Watts from Norwich. All are lone parents who were motivated through isolation, something that is borne out in Julie's personal experience.

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“I found myself on my own with a new born baby and was looking for support. There were mum and toddler groups but the mums were married or had partners. I had left my career to move to Norfolk and needed to re-build my life. When I moved here there wasn't anything and I wanted to meet other lone parents,” she said.

Julie started by setting up a friendship group from her Hethersett home in 2007.

A friendship group can use the Gingerbread name but it cannot fund-raise under its banner. Julie wanted something stronger with proper codes of conduct and child protection policies and so a fully fledged branch of Gingerbread was launched in order to provide members with emotional support and financial and legal advice as well as information on such emotive subjects as child support and domestic violence. It also provides a database of support organisations available in Norfolk.

The aims of the new branch of Gingerbread are simple:

“We want to reach out to all lone parents. I know some of them are scared to come along to our meetings as they have been isolated and find meeting new people daunting, We are a friendly group and they will find us very welcoming as we are all in the same kind of situation. We can help people to get through the really bad times. Sometimes with young children days and weeks can go by without you having an adult conversation and we are very aware of this,” Julie said adding that her own experiences had been similar to those of many lone parents.

“I became very anxious and was quite depressed. My world had come crashing down on me. I realised it would have been so much easier to cope if I had access to a support network to help me get through a terrible time in my life. Our aim is to help people who have suddenly had their world ripped apart and are suffering from acute anxiety and depression and find themselves on their own with children. We want them to know that there are people in Norfolk to support them.

“I had always thought that I would have a career and family life. You don't expect the worst to happen. When it does the wind is knocked out of your sails and you just spiral downwards. Hopefully that's where Gingerbread will come in. The quicker people seek out support the quicker they will get through the really bad times.”

Julie firmly believes that a group such as Gingerbread helps not only the parents but also children to come to terms with the situation. “It gives them the chance to see that there are other young people with only one parent and so they don't feel alienated. Potentially we have 17,000 members in Norfolk. I find it very rewarding that in some way we can make a difference in people's lives.”

She has lost track of the number of people who have already contacted her and shown an interest in the group. As well as providing support, the county Gingerbread group is also looking to campaign on issues such as housing and public awareness.

“Sometimes you find that when you are going through the worst time of your life doors just keep closing in your face. We want to change this

“The public's perception of a lone parent is of an irresponsible teenager and this couldn't be further from the truth. Nationally the average age of lone parents is 36 and that is exactly the age in Norfolk. There are many prejudices about lone parents. If you don't work people think you are lazy. If you do work they think you are neglecting your children. Sometimes a lone parent will find themselves in a no win situation,”

Julie also pointed out that the definition of a lone parent was also very different to the public's perception:

“A lone parent is not only those who have separated from their partner or are widowed. They can also be the sole carer when a partner is unable to contribute to childcare due to a disability or long-term illness or they may be hospitalised or overseas in the forces. People in these circumstances may be relieved to know there is somewhere they can go to get some support.”

The youngest member of Norwich and Norfolk Gingerbread is 31 and the oldest 48 with children aged from nine months to16 years. Julie's son Campbell is now two and a half.

The group celebrated its official launch earlier this month (July) by making a giant 6 ft gingerbread man. Babies to teenagers from Wymondham, Hethersett, Eaton, Caister, Deopham, Bowthorpe, Rockland St Mary, Fleggburgh, Norwich and Great Yarmouth put their hand prints on the giant mascot.

The group is hoping to set-up a dedicated web site with contact numbers, advice on a variety of issues and support. It is also applying for a number of grants to help with its work.

Annual membership of Gingerbread costs £5 and further details are available from Julie Briggs on 01603 810609 or 07753 822 050. Julie can also be contacted via e-mail at