“I just want to be grandma - but I can’t”

Charities mark Grandparents Day by calling for new volunteers across the North East

The UK charities behind a kinship carers project in the North East of England are marking Grandparents Day on Sunday 5th October by highlighting the unsung heroes - grandparents who step in to the parenting role and so can’t be ‘grandma or granddad’ to their grandchildren.

They are calling all grandparents and older people from Northumberland to Teesside, from Tyneside to Durham to become befriender volunteers in a project which offers a lifeline to grandparents and family carers in this situation.  The project, called Relative Experience, was created by the charities Grandparents Plus, Family Lives and the Family and Childcare Trust, and provides peer to peer support from trained volunteers for grandparents and family (kinship) carers who have stepped in to raise a child in a crisis situation.. The children have usually had a range of traumatic experiences such as the death of a parent, domestic violence or abuse or neglect. Without the care of their grandparent, aunt or uncle, they would be in the care system. The project focuses on those carers aged over 50 who may be experiencing isolation, stress, and substantial challenges, and trains volunteers to offer support.  Funded by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund, the project has over £1million of funding to invest across the North East until 2017. 

There are up to 200,000 grandparents and other family members, known as kinship carers, raising up to 300,000 children across the UK. There are thought to be up to 12,000 across the North East but no official data is collected on this group of carers.. Most kinship carers do not get the support they need because the children they care for do not have ‘looked after’ status. The project offers them a source of peer support. An independent evaluation found that both volunteers and those who are befriended see improved wellbeing and confidence.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus said: 

“Grandparents’ Day is a day to celebrate the huge contribution grandparents make.  But we want to remember the unsung heroes – the grandparents and family carers who have had to become mum and dad in very difficult circumstances.

“Our project volunteers provide a lifeline for grandparents and other kinship carers, providing trained, one-to-one support, reducing feelings of isolation, and helping them through the many challenges they face.” 

Rose, a grandmother who is providing a permanent home for her grandchild said: 

“I just want to be grandma but I can’t. I stepped in to care for my grandson, Joseph, when he was two years old. Social Services asked me to care for him because his safety and welfare were at risk. If I hadn’t stepped in he would have been taken into care. He is now nearly 8 years old. I try not to differentiate between all my grandchildren, including those that don’t live with me, but it is difficult. There has been a split within the wider family because of what happened and sadly I don’t see one of my granddaughters any more.

“I became involved with Relative Experience as a befriender after one of their workers contacted me to say she thought I would make an excellent befriender because of my experience. I undertook the training and have just been matched with another kinship carer who needs support. 

“To each and every kinship carer, hold your head up high and know you are doing a good job – even on the bad days”

Relative Experience is looking for older volunteers who have experienced kinship care in their own families and who can offer support to grandparents who are kinship carers.

For more information about volunteering for this project, contact Vicky Jackson at relative Experience on 0191 200 5034 or email: relative.experience@gmail.com.


Contact: Ross Matthewman, Family and Childcare Trust, telephone 0207 940 7536                    email: press@familyandchildcaretrust.org.

Notes to editors

Relative Experience is run in North East England by UK charities Grandparents Plus, Family Lives and the Family and Childcare Trust.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund, the Relative Experience project is based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and offers befriending support to kinship carers across the North East who are over the age of 50. Older volunteers – who may be kinship carers or grandparents themselves – are recruited, trained and matched to families needing extra support.

There are currently seven volunteers helping 15 families across the region. A further 15 volunteers are currently being trained.

A conference, which took place on Wednesday 1 October 2014 in Sunderland, saw the start of the expansion of the project, which will see a total of 180 volunteers being trained to work with 370 kinship carers.

About Grandparents Plus

Grandparents Plus is the national charity which champions the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives, especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances. The charity runs an Advice and Information Service for grandparents and other kinship carers and a peer Support Network. Telephone 0300 123 7015 Monday to Friday from 10am to 3pm or go to www.grandparentsplus.org.uk for more information.

About the Family and Childcare Trust

The Family and Childcare Trust works to make the UK a better place for families. Our vision is of a society where government, business and communities do all they can to support every family to thrive. Through our research, campaigning and practical support we are creating a more family friendly UK.

For further information, go to www.familyandchildcaretrust.org.


About Family Lives

Family Lives has over 30 years of expertise in delivering direct services to families.  Their free helpline (0808 800 2222) receives over 120,000 calls each year, visit www.familylives.org.uk