Volunteering – the gift of giving

Tracey Bromley, volunteer support officer (recruitment)

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” William Shakespeare

We all give and receive gifts at Christmas and one of the greatest gifts you give as volunteers every day is your time, and for that, we would like to thank you! December is a great time for thanking our volunteers because without you, many parents would not get the help and support they seek on a day to day basis.

January is a great time for recruiting new volunteers, but this takes time, effort and planning. We hope we can help you with this by providing some great tools which will make your time more effective.

We all hear the words ‘new year, new you’ or ‘new years’ resolutions’. Although these may seem they have had their day, they are in fact what people think about in January.

Here are five ways in which you can build on this kind of thinking in order to recruit volunteers at the start of the year.

1. Gift of time

In the new year people often think about making changes to how they invest their time.

List off opportunities by the time they take. Include activities that happen weekly, monthly and on a one-off basis. Pick a range of times one hour, five hours, one day etc. Briefly explain what is involved and what the benefits are for the volunteer and the people our branch helps.

Always include how to find out more, having planned to respond speedily to people who are interested. One option might be to contrast a typical leisure activity with a voluntary activity. For example “In less than the time it takes to watch a movie, you could help a mum feel less lonely.”

2. New Skill

Many new year’s resolutions involve learning a new skill. Show how being involved with your branch can help new volunteers achieve their goal. For example you might say being a volunteer at the nearly new sales can help develop organisational and people skills: ask an existing volunteer to teach a new volunteer to create a video story promoting the nearly new sales.

3. Wellbeing

At the start of a new year people evaluate their wellbeing. Think about the ways volunteering with your branch helps the wellbeing of your volunteers through: making friends; building self-esteem; keeping fit; staying mentally active.

Think of opportunities for groups of friends or families to volunteer with you. i.e. nearly new sales.

4. Hold an open event

Host an informal event, open to everyone to showcase your organisation. Tell stories of how you make a difference to people’s lives. Ask positive current volunteers to share the benefits of being involved for both them and the organisation. Prepare a range of volunteering opportunities, making sure they are meaningful. Think about fitting the different commitment levels that volunteers might be able to make. Capture contact details whilst conveying that if the role isn’t a fit for the volunteer, there will be no hard feelings! Plan the first three sessions with new volunteers so they get a positive first impression.

5. Challenge

The New Year is a great time to creatively engage people in your fundraising. For example if they are trying to lose weight, quit smoking or drink less they might find it motivating to ask for sponsorship linked to their goals and your branch. You might have a local challenge event like a half-marathon or Tough Mudder near you which could help you reach personal goals and raise funds for NCT. People often like to combine a personal challenge or memorable experience with doing good. Whatever the challenge is don’t be afraid to suggest fundraising for the branch.

If you need any further advice, support or inspiration, please do not hesitate to contact us enquiries@nct.org.uk.

Continuity of carer – why does it matter?

Dr Tracey Cooper MBE, speaking at NCT’s AGM, October 2018

If Continuity of Carer was a pill all doctors would be prescribing it!” a quote that always stays in my brain from Professor Soo Downe.

Continuity of carer in maternity care has so many significant benefits for both women and babies, but this is often overlooked. Better Births (NHSE 2016) sets out the importance of relationship-based care and supports the NICE Intrapartum care recommendations on place of birth to increase choice and ensure women can build up a relationship with a midwife they know and trust. For women with complicated pregnancies this includes relationship-based care with an obstetrician, as well as a midwife.

In many places maternity care is fragmented and ‘factory like’. A woman is passed from one department to another, with different staff in each place. This leads to women having to repeat their story. Care is impersonal, leading to safety issues, as problems are overlooked. If a midwife can build a relationship with a woman, she is more likely to identify if something is wrong and the woman is more likely to tell her if she is concerned about something.

Continuity of carer has many benefits. The first scientific evidence about continuity was from the Know your midwife scheme (Flint 1989), a randomised control trial. A team of four midwives provided the majority of care during pregnancy, labour and the puerperium to 503 women at low obstetric risk, over a two year period. Compared with standard hospital care randomly allocated to 498 women, this greater continuity in all phases of maternity care meant the women felt more satisfied, better prepared and able to discuss problems. Augmentation was reduced, less analgesia was required in labour and there was no difference in neonatal outcomes.

More recently a Cochrane review (Sandall et al 2016) has shown that continuity of carer models improve safety and outcomes. Women who had midwife-led continuity of care were 16% less likely to lose their baby, 24% less likely to experience pre-term birth, 15% less likely to have regional analgesia and 126% less likely to have an episiotomy. So continuity of carer is an important tool to meet the ambition to reduce stillbirth, neonatal death, maternal death and brain injury during birth by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2030. The causal links between continuity of carer and improved outcomes are not fully understood but it is likely that the ongoing relationship built on trust gives the woman the confidence to be open with the midwife and helps the midwife to identify and manage risks.

Walsh and Devane (2012) found that the ongoing relationship enabled the midwife to provide care with greater empathy, which provided women with a greater sense of control, and reduced stress and anxiety. In these models the midwife is responsible for care co-ordination and liaison with other specialists so that the woman gets the level of care she needs. There is less missed care as the midwife is enabled to be proactive in ensuring missed appointments are rescheduled, acting as a safety net across complex care pathways. Caseload midwifery appears to provide increased benefits and reduced harmful outcomes for women with complex social factors (Rayment-Jones et al 2015). This is likely to have a significant impact on overall outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

Women I have worked with have felt real benefit from being cared for by the same midwife and the same obstetrician throughout their childbirth journey. Redesigning current services that are based around organisational needs and not women’s needs is not working. We need to flip the system on its head. It can sometimes feel too difficult to do and is put in the ‘too hard to do’ box. Women, families, midwives and obstetricians have to support each other to change the current overbearing ‘production line’ systems we currently have. We need to offer choice for women not only about care options but place of birth. Women need to know the evidence to enable them to make informed decisions that they are happy with, which midwives and obstetricians need to support.

About the author, Dr Tracey Cooper MBE

With 25 years’ midwifery experience, Dr Tracey Cooper has worked in all areas of midwifery and birth settings in both management and consultant midwife roles. She’s currently Head of Midwifery at Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. As a member of the NICE High Risk Intrapartum Guideline Group, she provides guidance on policy locally and nationally.


Trains (not planes) and automobiles

Nick Wilkie

Along with colleagues and trustees I was allowed out for pretty much all of June. I think we’re fairly good at making sure we spend time out and about with volunteers and practitioners all through the year. But June is definitely a prime time for this. 19 workshops in 21 days. Literally the length and breadth of the country. Bringing together 337 of us across this wonderful thing called NCT that we share.

For those of you who are new or haven’t yet tuned into these events, they are the summer series bringing volunteers, practitioners and staff together to talk about and take forward our ten year ambition – #ourNCTstory.

Two years ago we came together in (literally) thousands of conversations to agree our ambition and goals for the decade ahead. We called this #ourNCTstory after people, inspired by the workshops of two summers ago started writing #myNCTstory and posting on twitter. And, as many of you know, it’s the story we’re writing together of how we build on all that we do today, to support all parents across the first 1,000 days.

So each summer, we take to trains, buses, bikes (even one boat) and account for progress, explain the plan and develop the plan. Thank you so much to everyone who was able to get involved. It’s great to see so many people. (And a key opportunity for next year is how to make the events as accessible as possible for volunteers and it was good to talk about this with regional coordinators a couple of Saturdays ago.)

For those of you who couldn’t make it in person, you can watch it here and share your thoughts via ourNCTstory@nct.org.uk.

The June events are a central part of how we plan, do, review. For example, in summer 2017 we heard more needed to be done to improve venues, resources and cancellations. So we reviewed and stopped using 70 venues which were the cause of 90% of parental complaints. (And we’re not where we want to be yet and aren’t complacent.) On resources, we brought in someone to focus on a discrete project – many practitioners will have engaged with this – and have drawn down from reserves to invest in rolling out improvements, available a little later this year. And we worked with practitioners to test out ideas for reducing course cancellations. Two out of the four ideas worked and we’re now rolling these out further.

So this June we took the opportunity again to meet with practitioners, volunteers and staff around the country. To share what we’ve done. Be challenged on what we haven’t. Discuss what’s coming next. We know there is much to do. Some very big things aren’t even begun. And we’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s also true that if we look across the year just gone 2017-18 – the first full year of our ten-year ambition – we are doing what we said we would and can point to clear, specific progress.

So what’s next?

We read every single post-it and absorb your hopes, fears, criticisms and builds in detail as we go into the rolling three-year forward view in the autumn.

Early analysis of thousands of post-its and feedback forms suggests real enthusiasm for the events themselves, and a shared sense of progress overall (eight out of ten evaluations indicate positive feelings of going in the right direction, a fifth mix the positive with some concerns and ten in total felt negatively).

A number of themes have already started to surface.
You feel positive that we’re moving in the right direction, that we’re making progress and that we’re doing it together. That we’re listening to you. That we’re becoming more of a team. You shared encouragement for work already in train – #HiddenHalf, the work on venues and resources, relationships with the restructured volunteer support team, the new website development, a robust approach to ourNCTservices – and much more. Thank you for that. And of course you want to see us collectively strive for more – continuing to get our brilliant brand out there in front of more parents and different demographics, building on the strength of national campaigns like #HiddenHalf to drive increasing influence at a local level, continuing to focus on student recruitment and the retention of existing practitioners and working with branches to develop more local services for parents. None of this is new. It builds on the thousands of conversations we’ve already had to shape #ourNCTstory. And it’s in the plan. So it’s brilliant to see that so many of you feel positive about the progress already made and that we share a collective sense of what we need to do next.

These are just some of our early reflections. We’ll take the full analysis into the autumn as we work towards our 2019-22 strategy followed by the annual operational plan for 2019-20.

We have an awful lot to do. We won’t always move as quickly as we’d like. And there will be mis-steps and setbacks along the way.

It’s also true that we’re clear which mountain we’re climbing and how. We have a good map. And we are gaining height.

Most of all, we’ve got a great team. Of thousands. Of you. Parents supporting parents. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from. This is who we are, and where we’re going.

Thank you so much for everything you do and will do in #ourNCTstory.

Nick Wilkie, Chief Executive

Memories of Gwen Rankin

Nina Smith
Nina Smith who compiled NCT’s Oral History held at The Wellcome Collection

The death of Gwen Rankin in June aged 94 has prompted me to share more about a truly inspiring woman.

When I joined NCT in the late 1970s Gwen was a big figure within the organisation. Once I started training as an antenatal teacher in 1982 I realised that she was one of the main activists in a move, beginning in the 1960s to make antenatal teacher training something dynamic, responsive, thorough and rigorous – aiming to give parents the best possible preparation and support for their momentous transition to parenthood. She helped to make NCT a unique organisation.

In 2012 I had the privilege of interviewing Gwen for the NCT Oral History. Even in her late 80s her energy, determination and enormous confidence shone through. Apart from the insights she gave to me herself, it was notable how many of my total of 32 interviewees mentioned Gwen as someone who had deeply influenced them and of the key role she played in the development of the organisation.

Gwen was living in South America at the time of the foundation of the Natural Childbirth Association (NCA), the forerunner of NCT, because of her husband’s work. However, she knew of its principles as her sister Nancy (who was a founder member and gave the NCA its first premises for meetings) sent Gwen, who was pregnant for the first time, a copy of Grantly Dick-Read’s book Childbirth Without Fear. Gwen found reading the book a profound experience. When she returned to the UK she became involved with the organisation which was still finding its feet but rapidly growing. Before long Gwen was playing a central role and was one of a small group of women who went to talk to a suspicious BMA about this strange new organisation which had sprung up with the intention of improving women’s experience of childbirth.

Those suspicions of medical professionals, which made it very hard for NCA members to convey their message on behalf of women, were an incentive to develop NCA into a broader organisation. Gwen, alongside women such as Sheila Kitzinger, Betty Parsons and Philippa Micklethwaite, took the bold step of a renaming as the National Childbirth Trust and gaining charitable status. It was a controversial move but one which saw the organisation go from strength to strength. Vitality, passion and drive were powerful in these important early days and Gwen was able to work with like-minded and equally strong women to achieve change.

They were a remarkable generation. Gwen, a young woman during the Second World War, pondered on this during her interview.

“…..women’s status was completely changed by the Second World War. Before that women were very definitely second to men in anything concerning work and they were the people who looked after the home, who were domestic….. But then there were women in [the Armed Forces]. …..also women were told how important they were to work in factories – to build the planes, to build the tanks, to do all the work that the men would have done if they weren’t in the Army fighting….. So women had suddenly realised that they were important, that what they said would be listened to.”

There was a long way to go to reach equality, but Gwen and her contemporaries did find a voice and great strength and set to work with gusto to fight for the causes they believed in.

From the beginning those who were steeped in the ideas of Grantly Dick-Read, and had used his method to give birth to their own babies, held individual or group sessions to instruct women on how they could use the principles too. Gwen, along with Sheila Kitzinger and others, was one of the people who introduced and developed more coherent and organised training. I asked Gwen how that had come about, to which she replied

“ …because of demand really. We had to make sure, if we could, that the people who were teaching in our name were doing it wisely and doing it well.”

However, she did not subscribe in any way to standard formats – she herself was of a time when the methods of Grantly Dick-Read were being overtaken by psychoprophylaxis, often known as the Lamaze method. Some in NCT wanted to change over completely but Gwen was one of those who stood firm to blend the best of both methods and she believed that it was up to the antenatal teacher to teach in the way which she found most effective for the women in her classes. For Gwen the ‘wisdom’ of the teacher was what counted in how, and what, she taught.

When the tutorial system for training NCT teachers was set up Gwen was one of the first tutors and innumerable women from the 1960s through to the 1990s say that it was she who inspired them to become antenatal teachers. For those directly tutored by her she was unforgettable. So many people involved in different aspects of NCT’s work came across Gwen and she is remembered with affection, respect and a degree of awe by them. One could never be in any doubt as to what Gwen’s view was on any given subject.

She was a staunch defender of antenatal teachers and helped to set up Teachers’ Panel, not only to support teachers but also to ensure that what teachers taught was reliable and correct. Her scientific background meant knowledge of up to date research mattered to her.

Her interest extended beyond antenatal classes to work in schools and she started NCT’s Education section for that purpose. For some years it ran very successfully, although stopped in the late 90s. In view of current debates in the wider world Gwen was perhaps ahead of her time in her thinking, something that often characterised her.

There is much more one could say about Gwen’s work but one anecdote from Sheila Kitzinger’s oral history interview encapsulates something of Gwen’s personality.

“I had twins the second time round. I didn’t miss a committee meeting and went with the twins tucked up either side of a Moses’ basket…..…. But I remember Gwen saying ‘That baby needs feeding, Sheila.’ We were discussing some fascinating point and the baby was muttering. And Gwen has always been very, very motherly, much more motherly than me, and anyway, she got me to feed the baby!”

It must have taken a strong woman to tell Sheila how to look after her babies – and also a caring woman who saw the needs of babies as well as their mothers as a top priority.

Supporting positive feeding experiences for all

Head of Knowledge, Sarah McMullen

How we feed our babies is a very personal decision, dependent on our circumstances, the information and support we receive, the challenges we face, and the social and cultural context in which we live.

To support these decisions, the NCT services we provide for expectant and new parents, including our infant feeding support, are built around a parent-centred approach. This means understanding and respecting each parent’s unique circumstances, and supporting them to make the decisions that are right for them.

Yet very often, right across society, mothers don’t feel prepared or supported to feed their babies the way they want to. They face judgement or feel guilty about their feeding experiences and the decisions they make. This can affect any mother, however she feeds her baby, and has a very real impact on emotional wellbeing at a challenging and vulnerable time.

We want this to change.

Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. This means we are committed to informing and supporting mothers’ decisions, whatever that decision is.

  • We want all parents to feel prepared and confident as they welcome their baby into the world.
  • We want parents to know where to go for trusted support, and to be able to access that support, whoever they are and wherever they live.
  • We want them to feel respected in the decisions that they make, and supported to feed their babies the way they want to.

By providing trusted and personalised support, alongside evidence-based information on a range of feeding topics, we have a unique opportunity to help make these ambitions a reality.

What challenges do parents face?

We are particularly concerned about three ongoing challenges to positive feeding experiences:

  1. A high proportion of women find that they have to stop breastfeeding before they want to, often in the first few weeks. These mothers report feeling pressurised but not supported to breastfeed, and this can have a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. This level of unwanted drop-off and related emotional impact has persisted in the UK for decades, but is not inevitable.
  2. Parents who introduce formula milk often report feeling unprepared or not able to access information on formula feeding. It is important that parents can prepare to formula feed their baby safely and responsively. They need to be able to ask questions about formula feeding without fear of judgement. They also need reliable and non-judgemental information, free from commercial interests, on the use of formula, and to know that they can get that information, plus help and support, from us. Many topics, such as feeding cues, responsive feeding, and an assortment of feeding difficulties, are relevant to all parents – regardless of how they intend to feed their baby.
  3. Women experience unacceptable levels of pressure however they feed their babies… from family and friends, as well as from people they hardly know. Mothers who breastfeed their babies often feel pressurised and constrained about whether, where, how often, and how long, they breastfeed. Similarly, mothers who use formula milk often feel judged or guilty too, particularly – but not only – if they planned to breastfeed.

What are we doing at NCT to address these challenges?

As part of the ourNCTservices project, we are conducting a major piece of new research with parents across the UK, helping to strengthen and shape our future services so that they are as accessible and impactful for parents as possible. One thing we’ve heard very strongly from parents is just how much need there is to be prepared for the reality of feeding their babies, to be able to access good quality breastfeeding support soon after birth, and to be able to access information and support with formula feeding too.

Our breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters already provide highly valued practical and emotional support to thousands of women and families every year – on our infant feeding helpline, in people’s homes, in community drop-ins and Baby Cafés, and on postnatal wards. With cuts to services being felt across the UK, it is more important than ever that we work to protect and promote good quality support for all.

In addition to this major piece of strategic work, we have a number of other activities already underway.

  • We have updated our infant feeding message framework for our staff, volunteers and practitioners. This framework sets out how the services and support we provide, and the language that we use, can best support all parents with infant feeding and demonstrate inclusivity.
  • We have worked with a team of breastfeeding counsellors, building on parent feedback, to develop a new framework for the antenatal breastfeeding session and to outline how parents who are planning to feed formula milk (whether exclusively or in combination with breastmilk) can be supported antenatally.
  • Our quality team have produced a guide to best practice for antenatal practitioners and breastfeeding counsellors to work together effectively to deliver antenatal education in a way that best meets parents’ needs.
  • We have updated our study day programme for practitioners to build on new evidence and parent feedback, to support our practitioners with their knowledge, skills and confidence as part of their continuing professional development.
  • The quality team have been working one-to-one with a small group of practitioners who find it harder to get positive feedback from parents after their antenatal courses. This has led to significant improvement in parent satisfaction, and we’re continuing to focus on improving experiences for parents through our feedback and quality assurance processes.
  • We are reviewing and updating all of our web content to strengthen our evidence-based information across a range of feeding topics including breastfeeding, formula feeding and combination feeding.

Throughout all of our work, parents are at the very heart of our organisation. Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. We are deeply committed to this and to continual improvement. So we always welcome feedback or suggestions for how we can improve what we do.

Always Parents in Mind

6:45pm. A wet, miserable Wednesday evening. Full of traffic. Roadworks. And my bad language. I offended the fella on the Sat Nav so comprehensively that even he left me high and dry. (Or low and wet as was the case.) So then I was lost too.

Absolutely ruddy marvellous.

Fast forward twenty minutes.

Cup of tea and biscuit in hand, I looked on at the hub-bub of soon-to-be brand new parents all proudly exuding that hallmark cocktail of baby fervour: two parts excitement, one part trepidation, a twist of delight and a final dash of out and out worry. A joyous, fizzing environment.

It had been worth the journey!

Catherine Briars and Sara Tomkinson

As this was session four of a five-week Signature antenatal course, the friendship and trust built with Sara, the tutor, was clearly evident in the way each couple chatted openly, honestly and fearlessly about their hopes, assumptions and expectations of the life changing new chapter just around the corner.

Interactive activities, which focused on identifying essential purchases for baby, creating a safe birthing space, testing and discussing nappy types and brands and examining the impact of a C-section on birthing expectation, were the scaffolds of knowledge and technique the session was hung around. Yet the key focus I felt Sara draw out from every element of the class was support. How each couple can support each other; how the health care professionals can best support them; how Mum can best support herself.

The keenness of Sara to ensure parents understand that they are not making this journey in isolation is what NCT is all about.

We should set up a group WhatsApp“.

Oh, sorry Jane, I don’t have your number, I’ll put it in my phone now.”

We could all meet up at the Nearly New Sale and go for a coffee afterwards?

It is that companionship, friendship and ongoing connection these parents will share, long after Signature has ended, that will sustain them in those exhausting early months, when you just need to feel that ‘it’s not just me!’

The Parents in Mind pilot project I’m currently working on in Halton is there to offer that support reactively, when a mother’s mental health has begun to suffer. It was so positive to see these new families taking steps to perhaps alleviate their potential vulnerability so early on – without even realising they are doing it.

Having witnessed an established NCT group running so seamlessly, and delivering exactly what NCT offers on the tin, I left the class with a renewed sense of wanting to further support my own tiny local branch – to further build the NCT reputation in my area of the north-west where it is so much smaller and more tentative. Maybe pull a small Nearly New Sale together? Or do a flyer drop to further boost Bumps to Babes? Perhaps a coffee morning?

The ideas flowed through my mind all the way home. Which, with roadworks, torrential rain and an utterly useless Sat Nav, meant that by the time I finally pulled up back on my driveway, I had masterminded my very own 20 year international NCT story… I’ll save sharing that for another day.

Catherine Briars, Service Delivery Manager for Parents in Mind (Halton)

This guest blog has come from Catherine Briars who is Service Delivery Manager for Parents in Mind (Halton). 

From mum-to-be to NCT Trustee

Sarah Brown, NCT Trustee
Sarah Brown, NCT Trustee

This last year, as well as becoming a mother, I have also become an NCT trustee, and I’m so proud of both roles. I actually decided to stand for election after the NCT practitioner who facilitated my courses suggested I might be good at it. Thank you Fran Bailey! I hadn’t even considered it before then, but I really respect her opinion and appreciate the support I’ve received from NCT personally, so decided to go for it. When I was told I’d been voted in, I wasn’t sure I believed it! I’m really grateful to have been given such a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to something I really am passionate about. I believe that all parents deserve to be supported through early parenthood and that advice and support should be readily available to all parents, whatever their circumstances. I have found that it is often those who need support the most who do not or cannot ask for it; it’s important to me that those people are able to experience what NCT has to offer.

I knew about NCT long before becoming a mother. My friends with children had taken NCT antenatal classes and they’d talk about how valuable the classes were and the great friends they’d made from them. So when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to book onto an NCT antenatal course. It was important to me because I wanted to make sure I was completely informed about birth and beyond and I knew NCT was the best choice to make sure that happened. I was also keen to have a circle of mum friends with babies the same age.

Booking the course was one of the first things I did after having my 12-week scan. I chose to do an essentials course because the evening sessions suited my husband and me. Little did I know that our choice of essentials over signature would set in motion a course of events that one day would make me an NCT trustee.

I can still remember our first antenatal session back in late November 2016. I recall a sense of anticipation and that awkwardness when a group of strangers come together and try hard to be nice to one another. Fortunately, we were in a lovely group and gelled pretty quickly, with the help of our excellent practitioner. She was very knowledgeable, empathetic, friendly and kind.

I found the course really useful and came away feeling much more confident about birth and parenting. It’s worth saying that I did other antenatal courses too and lots of reading, but NCT is definitely the thing that had the single biggest impact on making me feel prepared. And I am definitely not just saying that now because I am an NCT trustee! It was also really helpful for my husband; I was concerned about how he would deal with the birth in particular. But by the end of the course, I knew he’d be fantastic (and he was).

Our little girl, Charlotte was born in February 2017. The first weeks were the typical whirlwind, which I was significantly helped through by my NCT friends. I found that having someone in the group reply to your desperate 3am WhatsApp message because they were awake too, going through the same thing, was such a help.

For some their NCT journey ends after their antenatal course is completed. But our course practitioner encouraged us to continue postnatally, and I am so glad we did. There’s so much support still on offer, and the hard work really does start after the little one arrives, so it’s good to know NCT is still there for you then. I have taken full advantage of the local Baby Café where there’s always breastfeeding support, a good listener and a hot cup of tea on offer – this goes a long way when you’re a new mum. I’ve also completed an Early Days course which began when Charlotte was around 8 weeks old. At that stage, I was beginning to see some semblance of order through the chaos and Early Days helped me to think about what our life as a family would look like and think to future developments, such as introducing solids. More recently I took part in the NCT Parent pilot, which was a helpful ‘check in’ on how family life is going, what it will shape up to be like and how we can help our daughter to develop.

So you could definitely say I’ve made the most of NCT’s offer to parents. All of these NCT courses have helped me to remember that my purpose as a parent is to help my daughter develop into a decent, well-rounded adult – it is not just a merry-go-round of feeding, nappies and sleep (or lack of it)! The phrase our practitioner used will always stick with me: “We give them roots and we give them wings.

My journey as a parent continues and I’m really excited now to be a part of the vision as a trustee to ensure all parents can benefit in the way I have.

40 years with NCT

Val Winder, NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor
Val Winder, BFC

Little did I know in 1978 when I started my training as a Breastfeeding Counsellor (BFC) for NCT that it would still be a huge part of my life for the next 40 years.

I have seen many changes as NCT has grown and adapted to the challenges it has faced as a charity. It began as an educational charity to help prepare parents for childbirth. When the Breastfeeding Promotion Group was set up I became a member of the team with the job of vetting applicants for breastfeeding training. We had an age limit of 40 which thankfully was removed after several years, as we would not have had so many wonderful BFCs and I would have had to retire 30 years ago! During my time I estimate that I supported well over 3,500 mothers and with increasing age came increased knowledge and experience.

During my 8 years’ career break I threw myself into working for the charity, at branch and national level. After returning to full-time work as a teacher in a high school I continued with breastfeeding counselling and then I trained to be a breastfeeding tutor which I did for 20 years and absolutely loved. After I retired from teaching in 2008 I trained as a peer support trainer which was hard work but very valuable and such fun. I also trained as a supervisor which has been immensely rewarding and fascinating. I have enjoyed facilitating study days and meeting so many inspiring BFCs with such a wealth of knowledge.

I feel very honoured to have been chosen as Breastfeeding Counsellor of the Year and NCT Visionary in 2012. I was also nominated two years ago for ‘Woman of the Year’ in the Sue Ryder annual event in the ‘ Community impact’ category.

I have enjoyed working with colleagues in the NHS, facilitating study days, participating in training midwives in Leeds in the 1990s, and working closely over the years with colleagues planning and delivering improved breastfeeding provision in Leeds through the Maternity Services Liaison Committee and regular Breastfeeding Planning meetings. I believe that this close cooperation has led to the hospital and community in Leeds achieving the highest level award of the Baby Friendly Initiative.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work in the last 10 years has been facilitating antenatal sessions for vulnerable women, most of whom are asylum seekers and refugees along with an NCT antenatal teacher, Rose McCarthy. This is now funded by Leeds Health and NCT are commissioned to provide the service as a drop-in but using Essentials training and facilitation. Mothers are so keen to return after they have had their baby that we now run a postnatal group in an adjoining room. Fran Bailey and Charlotte Hagerty facilitate the sessions and the 4 of us were thrilled to receive the NCT Team of the Year award in 2017 at the NCT Stars event.

Bankside Project - NCT Stars Team of the Year 2017
(from left to right) Fran Bailey, Rose McCarthy, Charlotte Hagerty and Val Winder

The contact with these inspiring women is really rewarding and great fun. We help them to make friends and to help eachother. We organise trips and weekends away and other social events.

This has led us into helping to set up a new charity called the Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary, which raises awareness of the difficulties migrant mothers face during pregnancy and childbirth. As a trustee and secretary of this charity I will be partly able to fill the void after retiring and it will help me to continue to use the skills I have had the privilege of acquiring during my many years with NCT.

There have been many changes in the way NCT works, such as a greater use of technology, introducing university level training, practitioner supervision, regular assessment, mentoring, electronic feedback, more paid administration posts, and peer support training. We have widened our reach to parents with new courses such as Baby Massage, Introduction to Solids, and Essentials courses. There are more opportunities for practitioners to earn money too. I think that sometimes changes are hard to cope with, but the charity has had to change to survive.

NCT is a wonderful and unique charity and I hope it will continue to cope with the challenges it faces in today’s world. I have confidence that it will continue to make a huge contribution to the education and support of parents in the future.

I am so grateful for what NCT has done to enrich my life. The prospect of retiring at the beginning of April is sad but also filled with so many happy memories of my colleagues and the families I have supported.

This guest blog is by Val Winder, an NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor. Thank you Val for all your support to thousands of parents over the years!

Parents in Mind – all systems go!

NCT’s Parents in Mind team have been doing a little happy dance this week, as we’ve reached a significant milestone for the project. All three pilot sites are now up and running, with the first referrals received for women in Newham to access perinatal mental health peer support. This really is a fantastic feeling for the whole team, who have worked so hard to get to this point.

As a pilot project, the Department of Health tasked us with developing a safe, effective and sustainable model of perinatal mental health peer support. We worked with the Institute of Health Visiting to train perinatal mental health champions within NCT, developed a training programme for volunteer peer supporters, recruited three wonderful local service delivery managers, and worked with our academic partners at City University and Kings College London to develop the evaluation framework and tools.

All of this work had to happen before we could begin actual volunteer recruitment and service delivery, and took considerable time and effort. This part of service development and piloting often remains hidden from view, but it’s critical to the success of the project – making sure we build upon what’s already known, develop the ‘service packaging’ which will keep volunteers and service users safe and supported, and can capture the learning and outcomes of the project.

We staggered implementation across the three pilot sites, starting in Coventry and Warwick, then Halton and finally Newham. This meant that we could take the learning from one site into the next, and also made it more feasible to deliver as a whole. And so we are now up to our full set of three pilot sites!

Before Christmas, I spent the most wonderful morning visiting Parents in Mind in Newham, where the newly trained peer supporters got together to celebrate completing their volunteer training. They reflected on their experiences, and shared their plans and hopes for supporting women in 2018. They were joined by recently trained breastfeeding peer supporters, who talked through their early experiences of supporting women in the community and on postnatal wards. They shared such powerful stories of supporting women, often in very challenging circumstances, with time, patience and kindness.

I sensed the close friendships formed amongst the volunteers, the support they are providing each other, and the diversity of experience in the room. I heard how their own confidence and sense of belonging had grown during the training, and of their commitment to supporting women locally. I watched how the peer support trainer (Andrea Weyand), service delivery manager (Belinda Ngugi) and local NCT branch coordinator (Kelly Drake) so expertly facilitated and supported the group. It was truly remarkable. I left wanting to bottle it up, and share it up and down the country. And hopefully one day we will!

During this final year of the Department of Health funded pilot period, we have a lot of work to do. We’re focusing on making the service as accessible as possible to women across the three sites, whether by self-referral or via a health professional. We’ll be continuing to monitor progress and outcomes for women, and to capture the learning about what’s working well and what could be improved. And we’ll be focusing hard on sustainability – how to bottle the magic, and demonstrate the quality and value of the support on offer.

At NCT, we have a shared vision of no parent left isolated and all parents supported. Working on this project –  hearing the very real experiences of women affected by perinatal mental illness, the fear and stigma that surrounds it, and the difference that peer support can make – I feel renewed conviction of the crucial role that we can play in improving experiences of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.

If you’d like to learn more about the project or are interested in working with us as an early adopter of the service in your region, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with Melissa Briscoe, NCT’s PNMH National Project Manager: Melissa.briscoe@nct.org.uk

Friendship, support and solidarity

Stephanie Maurel, NCT trusteeFriendship, support and solidarity: Thats’s where NCT comes into it’s own.

I have long been familiar with NCT as a household name, but having had my own pregnancy and childbirth experiences whilst living in Paris, I had never attended an NCT antenatal class. Having recently joined the organisation as a Member of the Board of Trustees, I was keen to give it a go.

I joined the final session of an NCT Signature antenatal course in Bromley, led by Kathy Oliver. After some initial discussion, we spent the class learning and practicing essential tasks using props and dolls: nappy changing, bathing, holding, soothing and finally – the surprisingly challenging – trying to wear a sling. Cue plenty of nervous laughter.

But the reality is, that these newly acquired practical skills will very quickly become second nature and part and parcel of life with a new baby. By the end of the first week with their new babies, these nervous mums and dads will have changed countless nappies with ease, got the hang of feeding and mastered the sling without breaking a sweat.

What really struck me about the class was the overwhelming sense of friendship, mutual support and solidarity. The kind you get when a group of otherwise complete strangers are brought together by shared experience.

That’s where NCT comes into its own: The focus is not only about teaching practical skills, but very much about facilitating a meaningful support network for new parents. In those early, uncertain days, the fact that these new parents have half a dozen other new mums and dads at the other end of the phone can be an absolute game-changer.

Reflecting on my own pregnancy experiences, I felt quite envious! I never had that support network and I wonder how my experience would have differed if I had?

This simply motivates me even more to ensure that we can deliver on our commitment to reach out to more communities and non-traditional NCT areas.   I’ve now seen first-hand how fantastic NCT’s model is in supporting new parents and I’m delighted to be part of that journey!

Stephanie Maurel (right), Trustee of NCT, with Kathy Oliver, Antenatal Practitioner for Bromley and Chislehurst.