Tidworth Mums have come together to address the problems they faced, to improve and sustain collaborative working and to improve the targeting of limited resources to deliver in the right places. They encourage each other, volunteer their time to deliver services in support of each other and offer advice to support new army wives. They run two cross regimental parent and toddler groups attracting a high number of parents; they have set up a facebook page and website, providing advice and support to other vulnerable families (now with over 900 ‘friends’); and plan activities for young families and to support women in the community, drawing on their own skills and talents e.g. cake decorating evenings. They also speak up for the mums with influential decision makers.
Initially, the Tidworth mums participated in the production of an ‘Army Wives’ film as part of Wiltshire Voices, a community film making project. This was not a documentary in the formal sense, because it did not set out with an agenda or story board. The film making is part of a wider engagement process that enables issues to emerge from the participants themselves – who in a sense direct their own film. This was their own story, their own film.
Specific challenges highlighted for Army Wives in Tidworth included:
- Understanding the lives of army families, frequently moving home, living as single parents for up to 9 months at a time, isolation and loneliness, stress of deployment and return to normal life for troops impacting on families
- Transport difficulties, lack of activities and suitable play equipment for children
- Difficulties for children in making and sustaining friendships and the impact on schooling
- Understanding who does what locally and getting partners involved
- Letting women’s voices be heard within a typically male oriented community
In this light, it is interesting to observe that the Army Wives film has had both considerable interest and a powerful impact on those that have viewed it, helping to build a sense of empathy, understanding and sympathy with the Army wives and their issues. This sense of empathy has motivated people to action that is already making a difference locally. Perhaps the most encouraging outcome is the emergence of the Army Wives themselves, who are organising themselves to deliver outcomes and to lobby for action.
Tidworth Mums is the name of the organisation set up on the back of the film. The mums came together to address the problems they faced, to improve and sustain collaborative working and to improve the targeting of limited resources to deliver in the right places. Small amounts of start up funding (e.g. toys for the toddler group, computers, storage equipment) have been successfully sought from Tidworth Area Board and Tidworth Town Council. This has empowered them to address the most important issues to them and also encouraged them to volunteer their time to deliver services in support of each other – for example, a mother and toddler group, coffee mornings, a website and facebook page. The value of these volunteer-led activities far outweighs the financial inputs from local partners.
Tidworth Mums have worked in partnership with a number of agencies to get the right support: including the army welfare service’s community development worker; the Community Area Manager from Wiltshire Council; and the local Children’s Centre. The nearby Wellington Academy are also working with schools’ extended services support to provide monthly childcare students to care for toddlers whilst Tidworth Mums hold administrative meetings. Some of the bigger issues raised by the mums, such as the need for additional crèche provision to help the mums back into training and education, are being looked into by the Garrison Commander and local partners; particularly on the back of the recent announcements for Rural Growth Network funding, the Wiltshire and Swindon Deal and the redeployment of troops from Germany.
Following the making of the army wives film, the women set up a community organisation called Tidworth Mums with the following aims:
- To provide parents and carers in Tidworth, and the surrounding area with better, more integrated information about the groups, activities, courses and support available in the area for those with children of all age groups.
- To create additional preschool activities that are structured and developmentally focused. To make these sessions accessible to the whole community with preschool aged children and encourage parent participation within them.
- To encourage volunteering within their community by creating volunteering opportunities wherever possible. We believe this will have social, emotional and long term economic benefits for the community and the individual.
- To welcome families moving into the area and help provide them with useful and relevant information about the local area and community. To encourage them to attend local groups and offer other support where necessary.
- To organise social evenings and ‘Tidworth Mum’ events that will encourage local mums to meet each other and where appropriate learn new skills.
- To work in an integrated, fair and inclusive way, providing support and information to both army and civilian families.
In response to the key issues raised in the film such as Isolation and loneliness experienced by army wives, the lack of structured parent and child activities in the area and the lack of information about facilities available in the area Tidworth Mums have developed the following responses:
- Set up facebook page to give advice, support and information. The site now has over 500 mums signed up as users and the Mums answer questions and queries on a daily basis including queries from army wives in Germany asking questions about Tidworth prior to moving there.
- Developed the Tidworth Mums website which is used to provide information and signposting to community events activities and local organizations. The site has also been used for health promotion activity e.g. dissemination of information on support with Domestic Violence and information regarding measles vaccinations.
- Launched two new parent and toddler groups at the local community centre, both of which are extremely well attended by army and now also by civilian mums. These sessions are used to welcome new mums into the area, to help develop positive parenting skills and to spot mums who may be struggling to cope and refer onwards.
- Organised community events such as a pamper evening for mums as well as cake decorating classes.
- Participated in fundraising activities such as cycle races
- Launched a skills and interests survey to find out what courses, events and activities were most needed in the community
- Launched a weekend support group for partners and children of soldiers currently on deployment
- They are currently working on a Tidworth Mums ‘What’s the Story’ book resource to support young children’s literacy skills. This is in response to local schools expressing concerns about low levels of literacy in army family children at reception age
- Earlier this year (2013) Tidworth Mums went to Whitehall at the request of the Minister of State for Veterans and Welfare, Rt Hon Mark Francois MP, to discuss support for army families with a view to rolling out the model developed in other Garrisons.