The charity that’s putting families first

Paul Thompson (families first) and Dot Shepherd (childminder) with children (left to right) Adam Sparks, Matilda and Henry Norris . Picture by FRANK REID
Paul Thompson (families first) and Dot Shepherd (childminder) with children (left to right) Adam Sparks, Matilda and Henry Norris . Picture by FRANK REID
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TWENTY five years ago, Wendy McLoughlin began a service which has become a mainstay in Hartlepool.

In March 1988, she set up a toy library for children across Hartlepool to use.

Soon after that, other linked projects began to develop – all for the benefit of town families.

They included a play bus which has operated for 22 years.

Now the project is known as Families First and it helps more than 1,200 people. It has been described by parents as a “community full of support and advice.”

It exists to “improve the quality of health and life for children, young people and their families through a range of social, welfare and educational measures.”

And behind its mission statement lies a service which really does make a difference to families.

Barry McLelland is one person who has seen the difference it makes.

He nominated the charity for a Pride of Hartlepool award and said: “Families First have not just built up a service provider, but a community full of support and advice.

“We always receive a warm welcome from the staff and volunteers and our children feel like it’s their second home, looking forward to each visit.”

Winning the award, he said, would “help raise awareness for this excellent service, which would increase and improve the community greatly.”

Families First manager Paul Thompson said: “We are humbled that someone has nominated us. It is nice that someone would take the time to do that.”

Today’s service also offers a health bus, play bus, a special needs toy library and Families First also operates the bistro at One77, in York Road.

Paul added: “A lot of the work that we do centres on special needs families. The reason we did that was because special needs resources equipment is very expensive.”

He said the cost of specialist equipment could be up to £1,000 but families could loan it for £1 a month and then return it, meaning that other families got use of it as well.

He said the service meant families did not have to pay for the prohibitive cost of items.

Last statistics showed that 1,200 young people benefited from the special needs facilities and more than 100 families were registered on the database as regular users of the charity’s facilities.

Dozens of worthy causes have been nominated for the awards which is now closed for entries.

The process of choosing a shortlist in each of the 10 categories will start this week.