In an interview today I spoke with Dave Pellowe about some of the many ideas I've talked about or  implemented over the years in an effort to create true cultural change at the community level; cultural change that embraces, nurtures and encourages women, babies and families.

These ideas are very practical, achievable with a few volunteers and can create long term sustainable services within any community.  They came about when the idea of a 'Centre of Excellence' in pregnancy support became the focus of my initial work in establishing Real Choices Australia.  This concept included the professionalising of services for which I developed online training opportunities,  along with (at the time) face to face training in how to establish effective and positive community networks, and identify your own community needs.

While I've spoken to many individuals and organisations over the years about many of these ideas and I know that quite a few have implemented them, I thought I'd take the time to provide an overview of the first very successful projects we undertook.

When I did establish our centre of excellence in regional Victoria, it was by working with a local team of young mums which at the time included my adult daughter, who was experienced and sufficiently qualified as a health professional to carry out the ground work.  It was an exciting time to bring to life a vision I'd had for some years in a team with my daughter.

One of the first points of difference in this centre was to be that it was not a service focused on women with 'problem pregnancies' but on supporting every and any woman by creating environments within which she and her family would feel welcomed and have their unique needs met.  We began with some simple but very powerful projects, two of which I will outline below

Family friendly outdoor events

A common activity in regional communities are outdoor events such as markets, church gatherings and school fundraising fetes.   Many of these events are great for families, however they often lack the most basic necessities for those with infants or toddlers in tow, making them more of a stressor than a happy family occasion for many.   Our first project involved procuring (borrowing at first, and later purchasing) a huge marquee, a couple of comfortable chairs, baby change tables, a play pen and some toddler toys.   The marquee was set up as a safe, comfortable and welcoming space for mums or dads to take a short break and simply sit with a toddler, or to change or feed an infant.  Trained volunteers would chat to families, hear about what their needs were and talk about why they were offering the service.

Parents were overwhelming in their positive feedback of this initiative as were community members who didn't need the service personally, but who saw how needed it had been.  This first community offering continues today several years since it's commencement.  Over the years it has become so highly valued that it now attracts corporate sponsorship each month, with funds supporting the work of the centre.

Family friendly dining

We also decided to produce a community directory for families with lots of information about what it was like to be a new parent, what and where services could be accessed, tips, recipes and more.   As part of this directory we launched a campaign that was both educational and about enhancing family friendliness.

A single page letter went out to all the 'eateries' that were identified in the town including cafes, restaurants and delis with seating.  The letter invited these businesses to be one of the first 10 to return a form with all boxes ticked in order to be included free of charge on a 'family friendly dining' page.  The business had to demonstrate that they met all the following criteria:

  • Are you breastfeeding friendly?
  • Do you have a safe highchair for infants or toddlers?
  • Do you have enough room at tables to accommodate a pram or stroller?
  • Do you have a  space for nappy changing infants and toddlers which includes a compliant change table?
  • Do you have a toddler menu?

The best thing about this project was the interest it engendered among businesses that didn't have all of these in places, and maybe hadn't even considered them but wanted us to tell them how best to achieve them.   The second phase of this project was to have one of our volunteers trained to attend the businesses to advise them as to how they could become more family friendly.

Businesses meeting minimum criteria were provided with a sticker to put in their windows to show their status as family friendly.  This project then extended to many other businesses in the community which wanted to demonstrate their willingness to support families, including banks, real estate agents and retail stores offering spaces to feed and change infants.

These may seem like small, or even insignificant projects, however they are huge in the impact they have for families who simply walk down a street and can see that they are welcome.   They also began to quickly generate interest in the needs of families and the latter project became one of the first major collaborative works between our service and the local business board.

You do not need a shop front to provide these services.  You don't need advertising.  You don't need to target any specific group of people.  You need a few volunteers, a mindset of community spirit and family valuing and confidence that every small step creates a ripple effect toward much bigger change.

More to come!