Newbies & 2bies is a support group and soft play café for bumps and babies held in New Life Christian Church, Abercarn, South Wales. Laura Jeffries shares the vision behind it, how it came into being and what it is able to offer the local community today.
It was the middle of the night, and I had been woken up by an idea for a new type of parent and baby group. That alone would be enough to confirm to anybody who knows me (and my ability to sleep through a thunderstorm) that this was not a Laura idea, but a God idea.
I lay awake wrestling with a surprising desire to start a bumps and baby group at our church. Earlier that day I had once again been praying, asking God to help me with an idea for something else, so this was not the answer I had been expecting at all. Besides, at that point in time it seemed to me to make no sense, as we didn’t have any babies in our church, no money for resources, I thought I’d struggle to find volunteers, plus there were several other excellent church-based toddler groups around our part of South Wales. Yet the more I pondered the concept, the more my excitement grew.
Somehow I knew this group would be a bit different and open to both expectant parents and those with children two years or under. I knew it was to be a relaxed soft play, café-style group, with a strong emphasis on encouraging and befriending parents, and that it was to empower parents with a network of support from the church, community and cross-sector family support services. But I still didn’t know why we needed to do this or if anybody would come.
As unexpectedly as the idea came, so too did the answer. I was on a routine visit to a lady in our community, when she opened up and told me some of her story. She had been in an abusive relationship, lost her home, suffered the loss of her first child, battled depression and was now pregnant again hoping for the happy ending she dreamed of with her new partner, but full of so much fear and anxiety she rarely left home. Even the thought of talking to new people or going to new places filled her with dread. She knew she would want to be able to take her baby to toddler groups, but was worried it would just be too overwhelming for her.
In that moment it finally made sense. It was as if the whole idea had been designed around what this lady needed – a smaller, relaxed friendly group that worked like a springboard to help expectant parents as well as new or anxious parents access friendships, other toddler groups, services and opportunities. This was something no one else in our community provided. I also realised that many parents don’t go to toddler groups until the baby is over six months old, so working parents, especially dads, can miss out on toddler groups altogether.
I began sharing the idea with my fabulous friend Lois, who began to run with it too and from there everything fell into place. Volunteers to help run the group came forward, as did the money, and we launched Newbies & 2bies in November 2016. Since then we have had over 200 parents join Newbies & 2bies, a name we chose to encourage expectant parents (including fathers) to attend so they can begin building friendships and support networks before the baby is even born.
We gained funding to buy our own Jungle soft play arena, and around the edge of the room we have café-style tables and chairs. We also serve fancy coffee, teas and snacks. All parents of babies two years or under are welcome, and we are thrilled we are now a group other family support workers refer parents into.
Our main aim is to have plenty of volunteers on board to ensure everyone who comes has not just a warm welcome, but a friend to sit with them to have a good chat, introduce them to others and cuddle the baby so they can have a hot drink while it’s still hot! The team make a point of learning parents’ names and pray for them regularly too. Newbies is a safe space for parents to breathe, be themselves and be encouraged. While we provide healthy snacks (and toast for parents who forgot to feed themselves), crafts and lots of fun experiences for the babies, it’s the parents we really focus on.
We invite special visitors to the group like Families First, the children’s Library Service, Community Connectors, breastfeeding consultants and many others who are simply there for parents to ask informal questions or to get advice in a friendly, encouraging atmosphere.
Through a partnership with another charity we have also been able to provide free accredited courses to help parents care for their family or gain employment, such as paediatric First Aid, food hygiene and customer care courses. We also have two fully stocked Care for the Family resource boards filled with a variety of Top tips for Parents leaflets.
To those families who are struggling financially we discreetly offer baby care packages, household cleaning parcels or food parcels. We have an easily accessible ‘community sharing box’, which allows people to donate new items or take what they need without asking (we’ve found this removes stigma and encourages access). We hold a ‘newbies swap shop’ each half term and that has encouraged a lovely sharing community feel among the parents, as they help to meet each other’s needs.
We hold special days with ‘crawl through multisensory stories’, creating fun parent and baby play opportunities. We also run an annual ‘no rehearsal needed’ pop-up nativity service at church, where babies from as young as eight weeks old have taken part with their parents and older siblings alongside children from other groups held at church.
We are delighted to now have four parent volunteers working alongside our church volunteers. All four have blossomed so much and are a confident, integral part of our team, befriending others and enjoying meeting new people. One parent helper said:
‘Moving to Wales six years ago, I found it hard to make friends and with no family in the area it became harder when I had my son, so going to group was scary. But with Newbies and 2bies I felt so welcome and I never felt lonely at the group as the volunteers would always talk to me, and remembered my name. Now I’m a parent volunteer and I have made so many friends, and make sure that all the parents that come to Newbies never feel lonely here but are remembered and welcomed’.
We love Newbies & 2bies, and feel it is such a privilege to be in families’ lives, even if only for a short time. So it was the icing on the cake when the Newbies & 2bies team won a Caerphilly 2018 Star Volunteer Award in the group category. We have also been selected for Co-op community award funding so we can reach more parents through Newbies & 2bies.
I could never have imagined how a seemingly illogical idea in the middle of the night and a step of faith would grow into such a fun, creative ministry that fills a unique gap in provision, meeting real community needs. It just goes to show that there are good plans … and then there are God plans.