In 2007 Bob Greig found himself a single father with sole charge of two young girls. Following a divorce he found himself living in temporary accommodation suffering with an acute anxiety disorder. His two daughters were struggling emotionally. He wasn’t eating properly, he didn’t socialise and his sense of isolation was growing. He knew he needed help.
Bob started to look on-line for some practical support for men in his position. He found groups with an agenda of Father’s rights (F4J and Families need Fathers) but these were not relevant to his situation. Lone parent groups like Gingerbread offered little in the way of practical guidance, and apart from some very out of date information, seemed to ignore the very fact that 1 in 10 single parents are male. Within 3 weeks, Bob had consulted with academics, CAFCASS, Social Workers, Family Solicitors, GPs and Health Visitors and a couple of Sociologists. All confirmed that there was little out there for lone fathers offering practical, professional and easy to access support and guidance on how to get back onto a pathway that would ultimately help lead them (and their children) to recovery.
To develop an online support organisation for lone fathers, hence www.onlydads.org was created.
It took a day to sort out a name, a logo, and find a web site developer. Using the remainder of his redundancy money, Bob also secured an office space and a telephone line.
By the end of May 2007, www.onlydads.org was up and running. With media interest in this new venture, calls and emails and requests for support started to come in. But two things happened. Firstly, the dads who made contact had problems and issues which Bob could not help with; they needed professional input. Secondly, over 50% of all enquiries were coming from single mums!
To re-develop the site in order to be able to respond to the needs of the enquiries effectively and to set up a sister site for single mums; both these were done, with Rebecca Giraud (a single mum) brought in to run the OnlyMums side of the operation. In 2009 two brand new websites were launched offering practical on-line support for single and separating parents and the project has not looked back.
Working in partnership with a host of organisations and with lots of input from single parents the websites continue to grow offering professional, up-to-date support and advice. The Panel of Experts offers parents free and anonymous advice ranging from bereavement issues to debt, financial and legal advice from a team of professionals.
OnlyMums and OnlyDads has a long way to go but thanks to the overwhelming support and feedback the project has established a solid platform from which to grow; an organisation that is not Rights-based but works to support and encourage single parents (often in very difficult circumstances) to put the welfare of their children before everything else.
We are struggling for funds (to date we have not received any government or charitable funding) but know that we have developed a much needed resource that provides a valuable service to single parents and those going through divorce and separation so we are determined to secure its future.
Part of our outlook over the next 12 months it to continue to build on developing working partnerships with other single parent organisations, Local Authorities, support organisations and Government and most importantly, single parents themselves. We want to work with all these groups to promote and support the services they offer.
We have learnt many things and continue to do so, but perhaps one of the most valuable and interesting is how parents who are in distress can often find it very difficult to make that first move to ask for help. We have found it is a combination of not knowing where to go and not understanding what resources are available to them and that the very first visit to a Job Centre or a Solicitor can be intimidating and fraught with emotions.
As a result of this, we see our service developing into a comprehensive gateway to accessing those resources both at a national and local level. For example we can provide information on just what a Family Solicitor is, what your first visit might be like, what to expect, ultimately encouraging someone to make that first visit.
We want to take the key ingredients of what we offer on-line out into the public arena. We recognise that many single parents (particularly single dads) feel very isolated and not all will turn to the web for support and so we are working towards other projects that will give another point of access for information and support. Our “Lone Parent Surgeries” are a perfect example.
Lone Parent Surgeries
We have already piloted these to great effect. The concept is simple; we put together a team of professional advisors and local service providers who will offer free advice in a neutral environment. Our aim is to run these regionally and then nationally supported by a team of single parent volunteers. These events will not only provide local people with access to information but they will also become an invaluable source of information as to what it is single parents need by way of support.
We are very keen to be involved in research projects that are looking at issues relating to single parenthood and hope to partner with other organisations such as the Fatherhood Institute. One area that particularly interests us is single fathers and their children and what can be done to address their sense of isolation, and to look at how single fathers can be better supported with the services that already exist.
An example of Big Society?
People are generally amazed that just two individuals with some personal investment have got to the stage we have. In fact some simply don’t believe us. One of the things we recognise though, is that we approach our work with drive and total commitment. Moreover, when mums and dads contact us, there is every likely hood we “will have been there”. Empathy is automatic – and we know this comes across to those who use our services. Bob and Rebecca are passionate about declaring “being a single parent does not mean you have to rely on charitable handouts” For this reason, www.onlydads.org and www.onlymums.org have to work commercially.
Blending “good work” with the commercial reality of running such a busy organisation has been our biggest challenge.
We recognise that there is something of an “industry” operating around marriage and relationship breakdown. To help fund our organisations we have created directories of Family Solicitors, Debt Counsellors, Independent Financial Advisors, Counsellors, and Mediators, whereby firms and individuals can promote their service in an “exclusive” way from their town or city.
It is this exclusivity that enables us to charge an annual fee for listing which helps fund the organisations.
Can you help?
1. Feedback on our sites is always appreciated.
2. Please do tell people about us, and if you can add a link to us from your blog or website – even better.
3. Write informative articles for us
4. Tell us if you think we need to be concentrating in other areas. We like fresh thinking!
The Bottom Line
If our organisation can help families navigate divorce and separation and through lone parenthood to the benefit of themselves and their children, even just a bit, then it’s a job worth doing.