Home-Start East Antrim Baby Bank opens in Larne with key focus of supporting local families in need

Home-Start East Antrim have opened a new Baby Bank service at Greenland Community Centre in Larne.

The volunteer-run service, which has been running since December but officially launched on Wednesday, March 20, was set up to support families facing financial hardship or crisis.

It accepts good quality second hand clothes and essential items such as nappies, toiletries, and bedding, along with some items of equipment, for babies and children up to the age of three.

The items are then distributed to families in need through referrals from third parties such as community midwives, health visitors, churches, schools, local charities or community organisations.

Speaking at the launch, Home-Start East Antrim scheme manager Kelly Taylor said that the organisation’s key priority was to ensure that those in the local community both know about the service, and know how to get a referral. “We want to make sure that everything that is sitting in our store actually goes out to the community,” she added.

"Home Start are a family support charity, and we support families with children under five. We started out as Home Start Carrickfergus 24 years ago, and two years ago we decided to expand to Larne and Newtownabbey.”

The organisation has three core services, including its home visiting service, which matches a trained volunteer with a family in the community who need support. “We tend to find a lot of our parents coming through [this service] often don’t have that family support,” Kelly said.

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, Home-Start East Antrim also set up a group programme for parents and families who are struggling with isolation.

It runs four groups a week across Larne, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus, with three of these general family groups and one for children with additional needs.

The organisation’s newest service, the Baby Bank was established after a need was identified in the area. “There are fantastic baby banks in Carrick and Newtownabbey, so those areas were covered, but when we came to Larne there was no baby bank,” Kelly said. “We’ve also at the same time found that we are supporting a lot more families than we ever did; this year, we will support upwards of 170 families.”

Speaking at the launch, Mid and East Antrim Mayor Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna paid tribute to all of those who continue to work behind the scenes at the Baby Bank. “It’s an incredible service to be offering, and is very much needed especially now when bringing up kids is so tough,” she said. “It wouldn’t happen without all the volunteers; they are absolutely priceless.”

Attendees also heard from Baby Bank volunteer co-ordinators Eileen Murphy and Gillian Murphy, who praised the support that the service had received from the local community so far. “When Kelly first mentioned the Baby Bank to us, she said that people in Larne are so generous, and we have found this to be so true,” Gillian said. “We have been overwhelmed with the generosity from the general public and community organisations to retailers and businesses within the town.”

Eileen added: “We’ve seen day and daily how valuable the service is; to make it even more so, we want it to be used to its fullest potential. We want everyone who can refer to us – health visitors, churches, community groups, schools, nurseries – to capitalise on this opportunity to help people who are in need. We don’t think that the only families we can help are those who are constantly below the poverty line; there are families who might have had a really tough month, or a really tough week. We want to be able to answer those needs whenever we can for these families.”

Meanwhile, the Baby Bank received a surprise boost from Asda Community Champion Gail Nicholson, who presented a cheque for £1600 to the service following their successful funding application to the Asda Foundation.

For more information on Home-Start East Antrim’s Baby Bank and how to make a referral, see https://homestarteastantrim.org.uk/baby-bank/ or visit the Facebook page.