My Home-Start journey started after the birth of my third child in 2004, I was at an all time low. I had severe postnatal depression which was disabling. My Health Visitor was very concerned and offered me extra support. After one visit she left a leaflet. It wasn't the first time I had seen this leaflet, but was the first time I had taken time to read it. What I didn't know then is how this decision was going to change mine and my family's life and what a positive impact it would have on all of us. That leaflet was from Home-Start Wyre Forest. 

I agreed that I would like to be referred to the charity and my Health Visitor informed me that a Home-Start co-ordinator would give me a call to arrange a meeting. I was petrified! I was expecting someone like a drill sergeant to give me a call, but I shouldn't have worried. My co-ordinator called me within the week ...…and to my surprise she sounded NORMAL! She arranged to come and see me the following week to discuss my needs. I don't know how many times I nearly cancelled in that week, but I am so glad I didn't. 

When my co-ordinator arrived, she put me totally at ease. We discussed my needs, I broke down, but felt I could tell her things that had been inside me for a VERY long time. I would like to take this chance to thank my co-ordinator, but for that initial meeting I would have run for the hills. I was told she had a volunteer in mind and would arrange a meeting the following week. Somehow that made me feel special, that they had been saving that special person just for me. 

The meeting took place the following week, my co-ordinator arrived with my volunteer and we immediately got on. I didn't feel that I was being judged or pressured, I felt like she understood and was interested and that meant the world to me . 

Trust is a fundamental part of Home-Start and I truly believe that is one of our greatest strengths. I was supported by my volunteer (and Home-Start) for just over two years. In those two years I feel as a person I grew, I had one on one support, plus I had access to the Family Group and days out. 

One very poignant moment for me was at a Family Group and they had beauty therapists doing nail art on the mums... …I had a major problem at the time and didn't like people touching me , but my volunteer reassured me I would be okay and kept an eye on my little boy. She even managed to get me to the front of the queue and I had my nails done! Not a big deal to most people but for me it was like climbing Everest! Anxiety has been a very devastating part of my life for as for long as I can remember and I can`t ever remember a time I wasn't scared. 

My childhood wasn't a happy on. While most children were surrounded with love and security, I was surrounded with addiction and neglect. As I grew so did my insecurities. I became a teenage runaway and the self loathing many of you couldn't imagine. I was on self destruct well into my 20's and after the birth of my first child in 2005, I suffered terrible postnatal depression, I felt so alone and useless. I was breathing valuable air that someone else deserved more than me. 

I felt guilty when I read in the paper of someone's beloved daughter dying, when I felt if that was me I probably wouldn't be missed. I hated the world but most of all I hated me . 

I spent the best part of my 20's and the start of my thirties medicated up to my eyeballs, I felt like I was living in a bubble not quite aware of what was going on. It was around this time that I met my husband, he was one of the very few people I had met in my life that loved me just for being me , which seemed a bit strange and took a bit of getting used to ! When we married in 2001 it was one of the happiest times of my life. We had our first child in 2002 and our second in 2004. I had it all, a wonderful successful husband, three beautiful children and a nice home. 

To the outside world we were the perfect family. Behind closed doors I was really struggling with my mental health. I must have put terrible pressure on my family as most of the time I didn't tell them what was going on. That is why Home-Start worked so well for me, having someone there who had an understanding of mental health felt like a breath of fresh air. Dare I say, it I actually started to feel NORMAL ! As my confidence grew I remember thinking I would love be a volunteer, but to me that dream seemed so far away. As my support came to an end I was determined that was my goal. 

I enrolled myself on an understanding depression course at the local hospital, which helped me understand why I felt the way I did and I was taught coping strategies, and that along side the support I had received from Home-Start I slowly began to realise my dream. 

I don't know how many times I picked up the phone to Home-start Wyre Forest after seeing the advert for volunteers in the Shuttle,but it was quite a few! I was thinking as soon as I told them who I was they would either burst out laughing or put the phone down, but to my surprise they did neither. I was told a co-ordinator would be in touch and I would receive some information in the post. The letter arrived and to my amazement it wasn't the thanks but no thanks I had been expecting it was an application form! I quickly filled it in and popped it in the post before they had time to change their minds! 

As promised my co-ordinator contacted me and came to my home. I was told they would love to have me as a volunteer and had a place on the next prep course which started in April 2010 !!!! I don't think I sat down the rest of that week I was so excited, I told everybody , people I knew ...a few people I didn't, random people at the bus stop, the milkman , the window cleaner..and a lovely lady that works on the till in Boots... ! I couldn't wait to start and counted down the days till it began. I was nervous, but I shouldn't have worried. I was with a lovely group of people and with the familiar faces of the co-ordinators I soon settled in. 

I loved the Prep Course. It wasn't always easy as some of the things discussed were upsetting and sometimes shocking, but that didn't put me off. During the course I decided to be very open about my life. This wasn't a decision I made lightly as I have lost people that I considered as friends in the past because they didn't understand the nature of my illness and basically thought I was a bit odd ! To say the reaction I got was overwhelming was an understatement. Not only was I supported but I was positively embraced by my peers. I knew then this was where I wanted to be. 

On the last day of the prep course I couldn't have been prouder and when I received my certificate I sobbed, not out of disappointment, but because I honestly NEVER thought I would achieve it. 

I was absolutely petrified on my first link, my co-ordinator introduced me to mum and handed me a four month old baby. I was shaking and remember thinking to myself "please don't drop it, please don't drop it". You will be glad to know I didn't. I have been supporting that family for just over a year and I am glad to say they are doing very well and have suffered no lasting damage having me as a volunteer! ( only joking ). I am also currently supporting another family. I absolutely LOVE volunteering for Home-Start and can`t ever see me stopping. To see a child waiting for you in a window on your visit or a baby stretch out their arms with a big toothless grin when you walk through the door is priceless. 

Another thing the Prep Course taught me is how to listen and I feel I am a very good listener to the mums I support. Sometimes volunteering can be very hard, I personally have had times which have been upsetting, but with the support of the co-ordinators I have NEVER felt that I couldn't cope. 

It was about nine months ago that the Home-Start Wyre Forest manager mentioned that my name had been suggested as a prospective new director, I thought I had misheard her and it took me three months to ask her whether she was joking. She wasn't, I honestly didn't know what to say. I (for the first time in my life ) was speechless. I went home to discuss it with my family, they were delighted and I had their full support. Even my teenager told me he was proud of me which was a bit of a surprise as he doesn't normally speak to me at all! It still took me weeks for it to sink in, I couldn't believe they wanted ME! 

I am glad to say the road to becoming a director is a lengthy one and you are not just thrown in at the deep end. I was supported throughout by my manager and the chair of Home-Start Wyre Forest. I was well informed and reassured that at anytime I felt that it wasn't for me I could walk away. That time I am glad to say never came and was overjoyed at being invited to be a full director on the 14th. June this year. 

So what does the future hold, who knows? All I know is after 43 years I am actually going in the right direction! Home-Start to me is one of the reasons I stand here before you today. 

On the last day of prep course I wrote a poem and the last two lines sum up my personal Home-Start journey: 


Tracy Wilkes 
September 2011

Tracy's Story

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