The children’s charity that’s working hard to go out of business
The Portland Child Contact Centre, a base where children of separated families can spend quality time with their estranged parents, is raising money to buy new toys.
The charitable organisation, based at The Hub Church in Portland Road, was opened in 2000 by the then Mayor of Stortford, Jan Richardson.
The Mothers’ Union spearheaded the drive for the centre and Churches Together in Bishop's Stortford, which co-ordinates the work of the town's churches, became involved very early on.
Its purpose has not changed since the launch: separated parents who do not want to see their ex-partners can visit their children in a safe, neutral and friendly environment.
When a parent takes his or her child to the centre, he or she does not meet the other parent unless they want to.
The organisation, which is accredited with the National Association of Child Contact Centres, operates on the first four Saturdays of each month, from 10am until noon.
Up to seven children, from newborn babies to 18-year-olds, can attend each session. Some attend weekly, others go fortnightly and a few may attend monthly.
The volunteers are there to keep an eye on things, safeguard the families and set up the room by unpacking toys and furniture.
Angela Weeks, the centre’s chair, explained: “It’s not always easy, but the ethos is that we help children from separated families.
“It’s enabling children to have contact with both their parents and sometimes their grandparents.
“Children who feel loved and cared for by both parents do so much better in school and in life.”
Angela explained that the centre’s volunteers have the same hopes for families who use the service.
“Our objective is to not be needed any more,” she said. “We hope to do ourselves out of business.”
Some of the parents who use the centre reconcile after a number of visits and are able to independently arrange times and places to meet.
“The last picture I have of this one family is them going down the steps leaving the centre. Mum was on one side and Dad was on the other,” said Angela.
Angela has been involved with the centre for 16 years and found out about it through a friend at St Michael’s Church. She took over as chair earlier in the year, replacing Stephen Donohue, a family law solicitor who had held the position since 2009.
Angela was previously the centre’s secretary, a role taken over by Lynne Ling, who discovered the centre through a newsletter she picked up in the Methodist church. She joined as a volunteer a year ago and started helping at the centre once a month.
Lynne has a second role as co-ordinator, which involves speaking to parents who are struggling to sort out contact arrangements with their former partners.
She vets each application. If a relationship has broken down because one of the parents has been abusive, he or she is not allowed to use the centre as the safety of the families and volunteers is paramount.
The centre receives financial support from local groups, churches, organisations and businesses. This month, shoppers at Waitrose in Northgate End can 'vote' with their green tokens under the supermarket chain’s Community Matters scheme to give the cause a share of a £1,000 pot.
“We intend to use the money raised for new toys,” said Lynne. “We had a good clear-out of old ones.”
Email Lynne at email@example.com to find out more about the Portland Child Contact Centre.