Like so many community groups, Seedlings, the thriving carer and toddler group at St. George’s Church in Stamford, had to close its doors in March 2020. With the closure of toddler groups, soft play areas and baby clinics, parents were feeling the stress of parenting during a pandemic.

Liz Power, Children and Families Minister at St George’s, says the church felt called to support these parents.

“Over the summer it became clear that some young parents, particularly with new babies, were really struggling due to the isolation of raising babies without that support network around them.

With the help of some church family members who were trained in mental health resilience and support, ‘Seedlings @ the Greenhouse’ was started in November 2020 with the idea ‘where do you nurture your most precious plants?’ A greenhouse.”

The group recognised that in order for the children and babies to thrive they needed to support the parents. With a church centre that can accommodate fifteen adults, they started up a weekly session. That quickly turned into two weekly sessions at 9.15am and 10.40am each Tuesday, leaving time between the two for a thorough clean down. Parents were encouraged to bring toys for their own child and a reusable cup for a drink for themselves. Much risk assessing and planning went into the safety of the venture all of which was supported by a team of prayer warriors.

Liz says, “The first week we opened was mainly church mums, six in all including four who signed up as volunteer mental health support workers. We now have 34 mums on our books and 28 of them are new to the church. As a paediatric nurse, I soon began to realise that what these babies had missed most was the socialisation that only occurs between babies. The first week they just sat and stared at each other!

This missional opportunity has been such a blessing to us and it’s been a real joy to share the gospel with these mums. I am so pleased to say we have our first baptism booked for September!

To be able to meet with these mums, with both my Children’s Minister and paediatric nurse hat on has been such a privilege. To offer reassurance that their babies are growing and developing well but to also assure them of God’s unending love has been such a joy in these challenging times.”

The group have also found that watching the babies and their development has also shaped what the Seedlings toddler group will look like when they are able to reopen. Liz and her team have observed that the babies have not only missed out on socialisation but also gross motor development.

“With that in mind,” says Liz, “I have been able to secure grants to change the play equipment we currently have to tumble toys, small climbing equipment and soft play toys as well as a sensory kit to be able to open up a bespoke sensory room for children with special needs as well as a quiet place for parents to spend with their child and reflect on the impact of the past year.”

If other churches would like to explore the possibility of launching a mental health support group for parents, Liz is happy to share her experience, including in writing risk assessments, mental health support worker job descriptions and sourcing places to apply for grants. She can be emailed at [email protected]