“Living in poverty is an exhausting and stressful experience and having someone to share concerns and anxieties with can make a world of difference.”
Local family charity, Home-Start Aberdeen, is seeking a new Chief Executive this Spring as existing boss, Eleanor McEwan, retires after five years in the role. The charity supports vulnerable young families across the city to prevent crisis and breakdown. Previously employed in social housing and community development for thirty years, Eleanor took the helm at Home-Start Aberdeen in 2018 and has since steered the charity successfully through a global pandemic and an ongoing economic crisis. But it was the charity’s ethos of harnessing the skills and experiences of local families to build community resilience that first attracted her to the role, as she explains:
“I’ve always loved the idea of parents helping parents – living in poverty is an exhausting and stressful experience and having someone to share concerns and anxieties with can make a world of difference – especially during these last few years. When the pandemic struck, our staff and volunteers rose to the challenge of delivering support remotely, and at a time of great uncertainty this made a huge difference to vulnerable families. Many were struggling to access the basics and felt they couldn’t give their children opportunities to play and learn. Some were dealing with relationship difficulties and poor mental health on top of the trials of home schooling – it was bad enough for better off families, never mind those in financial hardship. Being able to meet families face-to-face again was a real landmark moment – we do our best work that way.”
From organising PR campaigns and finding new sources of funding to meeting families and managing volunteers, no two days are ever the same running the charity, as Eleanor continues:
“I love the variety of the role, and I’ve been lucky to meet so many different people. It’s been heartwarming to hear the feedback from families, something we’re beginning to share more widely, with their permission, on our website and social media – families speaking themselves is a far more powerful advert for our work than us speaking for them.”
And the feedback is resoundingly positive: in 2021-2022, 98% of 202 supported families in Aberdeen said they felt more resilient and better able to cope with challenges, while 95% of these families’ 305 children were reported to have improved health and wellbeing. One parent described the charity’s volunteers as “stars…that always brighten up the darkness”.
Many of these supported parents even go on to give back to the charity in some way. “When the time is right for them, some parents train to be home-visiting volunteers themselves,” explains Eleanor. “We’re hugely proud of all our volunteers but there’s something very special about those who bring a lived experience to the role, and it can be invaluable for other families facing similar challenges.”
Aside from a global pandemic and a continued cost-of living crisis, the day-to-day challenges remain: “We’re constantly having to secure enough funding and volunteers, so promotion is a big part of our work,” says Eleanor. “We continually review what we do and try to improve or adapt our support in response to feedback from families. The privacy of our families is always a key priority, so GDPR, legal compliance and cyber security are all paramount.”
But for all the challenges, the role has been rich in rewarding experiences, according to Eleanor: “It’s been an honour to work for an organisation that makes such a profound difference to young children and their families. I’ve got to know families and heard their stories. I’ve watched parents gain knowledge and confidence while their children flourish. I’ve been inspired by our volunteers who give their time and talents, again and again, to be there for families during challenging times. I’ve worked with an amazing team who go the extra mile every day to make sure families get the right support, from the right person, at the right time – all to give children a better start in life. What could be more rewarding than being part of that?”
Home-Start Aberdeen is seeking applications for the role of Chief Executive. For more information and to apply visit https://www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk/application-pack/
The charity positively welcomes and aims to achieve diversity, encouraging participation from all regardless of age, race, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or nationality.