Community Corner - Our regular spotlight on a grassroots VCSE organisation in the perinatal mental health sector

Community Corner - Our regular spotlight on a grassroots VCSE organisation in the perinatal mental health sector

What is the name of your organisation and when did you set up?

Mothers Uncovered was set up by Maggie Gordon-Walker (who is answering these questions) in 2008 as a project for the arts and wellbeing charity Livestock, which she had co-founded the year before.

What prompted you to set up in the first place?

When I became a mum, I felt so lonely and isolated. I gave the impression I was fine, but I felt invisible, like I was failing. I worried that my much loved baby would be taken away from me. So I set up Mothers Uncovered for women to talk honestly about how they were blissfully happy one minute and in despair the next

Where are you based?

We are based in Brighton and Hove. We run groups across the city, further out into East and West Sussex and, since the pandemic, also online.

What services do you offer and who do you support?

We offer a range of different groups. When Mothers Uncovered started, it was just for first-time mothers with babies under a year, as the biggest upheaval is probably when a woman becomes a mother. Since then we’ve expanded to run groups bringing together different generations of mothers, mothers of older children and mothers of SEND (Special Education Needs or Disabilities) children. We run five week groups meeting weekly and individual sessions, which are facilitated by past participants. There are structured discussions around the sharing of stories, which are also captured in writing or art. This way a mother has a record of her experiences and it validates them.

What do you find most rewarding about running your service?

Simply, knowing that it makes a difference. It’s often hard to keep going, with funding being precarious, but when you see the difference it makes, we know it’s worth it. This feedback sums a lot of it up:

‘I found a group at a time when I needed to express my feelings about motherhood. I didn't have the security within my own relationships to truly express my emotions and feelings about motherhood without feeling like I was being judged. This group has taught me that many mums have exactly the same fears and anxieties and that sometimes it's ok to feel this way. I feel not so alone any more and more content with my life. A truly valuable experience which pulled me from the brink of post-natal depression. Considerate and understanding facilitators. Thank you all so much.’

How might it be helpful to you and your organisation to come together as a wider VCSE perinatal mental health community and work more closely?

It would really help, as like many small organisations funding is precarious and we struggle to get the word out about our services to those who really need it. Many mothers say that the peer support or lived experience groups they go to are what has helped them the most, as that is where they find their community. I have been trying for some years to connect with other services nationally and am glad Hearts and Minds are managing to do so.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting up, what would it be?

To try not to get disheartened at the slowness of pace – systemic change takes a long time. Also, don’t underestimate the impact our work has on someone, even if they don’t particularly show it at the time.

If money and resources were no issue and you could wave a magic wand and change any part of your service - what would you change and why?

Funding, funding, funding, so that we could have a permanent space to run groups, with onsite creche and office, plus book-keeper, full-time admin support and website team! It also would be so nice to not have to keep justifying our service, which we know works and just get on with supporting those that need it.

If you could give all parents a super power, what would it be and why?

a. Something that could make you function perfectly well on many nights of broken sleep. b. The ability to wave a hand at mess and it magically clear up like it did in Harry Potter. c. And, in all seriousness, the belief that being a parent is work (even though society only renumerates work done for the economy), they’re doing a damn good job and the best they can do is enough.

Anything you'd like to tell us about your service or organisation? Any recent wins or things to celebrate?

Two things:

We brought out a book in 2018 to celebrate our ten year anniversary. It’s called ‘The Secret Life of Mothers’ and is a compilation of over fifty past participants’ stories. All proceeds from the book go back to our charity to run more activities. Available on Amazon, or from the publisher Silverdart.

Secondly, I set up a petition YEARS ago calling for greater investment in maternal healthcare and investment into VCS services, specifically peer support. I also wanted a nationwide database (I thought of Mumlink as a good name) of mothers’ services, accessible to the public and health professionals. The H & M Partnership Map is great and it needs to be shouted from the rooftops. I would like something that is as big as Childline, but for mums. Latterly, I’ve become aware of the word matrescence (meaning the process of becoming a mother) and I advocate for recognition of this word in everyday use. To find out more about all of this, you can go to the petition, aka my convenient online manifesto 😉 – www.change.org/SupportMatrescence