Building Your Parenting Support Network: How I Created a Thriving APUK Group for Like-Minded Families

Building Your Parenting Support Network: How I Created a Thriving APUK Group for Like-Minded Families

When I found my local group, I found my tribe! A sentiment common among many regular APUK group attendees, and one I decided to take to the next level by getting APUK affiliation and setting up a new group just four months after first finding the warm and loving arms of the Green Bean in Wantage, with my then two-month-old son.
I’d got a taste of spending time around like-minded parents and their lovely little ones, and I wanted more.

Karolina and Megan who facilitate Green Bean (along with Camilla at the time, and now Hannah) have created a wonderfully welcoming and safe space for new (and not-so-new!) parents to visit. Between them their knowledge of breastfeeding, slings, safe sleep and cloth nappies is vast – and from the get-go I knew I’d always be able to count on one (or both!) of them for advice and a sympathetically knowing smile after yet another sleep-deprived night. It was thanks to them and their brilliant atmosphere that I felt at home as soon as I had helped myself to a slice of homemade cake and taken my shoes off.

The seed was sown

Oxfordshire is something of a hub for APUK groups, and Bear Cubs (APUK Steventon) became its fifth. We need so many because it’s a large and spread-out county!
We also love cake and it’s actually possible to do a tour of the groups and have some almost every day of the week (we have two groups running on a Monday, which means we need one more to be set up to make this gluttonous dream come true).

Inspired by Green Bean though I was, it was important to me to create a complementary rather than competitive group, and as such I selfishly selected Fridays for our meetings so I’d still be able to attend (and run) them when returning to work. There’s also very little on locally towards the end of the week, yet it’s a popular day for working parents to have off.

Affiliation and funding

When I have an idea I tend to get carried away and run with it, and this was no exception. Before long I’d applied for funding from local charity SARINC (who support community initiatives) to cover our initial set-up fees and a bit extra for incidental expenses. I contacted Michelle at APUK to get started with affiliation and researched ways to cover the cost if the charity decided not to support us.
APUK have a list of suggested organisations offering funding such as the Cooperative Community Fund and they even provide a template letter if you’re looking for local businesses sponsorship!

As I mentioned my plans to “mum friends” I quickly found people who said they’d love to co-facilitate and Rach who I met at Green Bean along with Kate who I met at the village Toddler Group signed up! I also approached Karolina and asked whether she’d like to come along to our sessions with her extensive Little Bean sling library – we’re a monthly rather than weekly group so it didn’t feel too cheeky an ask – and happily she said yes, as our own sling collection is still in its infancy. Before I knew it; I had a recurring booking at the village hall, had secured our funding, and our exciting Group Start Up Pack (part of the vast affiliation package) was on its way.

Our first meeting

We held our first meeting in September – a two-hour “stay and play” type group with lots of conversation. Our attendance rates have had their ups and downs, but generally it’s a well-attended yet not busy group, and I love the vibe. There’s always people bonding over shared experiences, an interest in the slings, and lots of gorgeous babies to coo over. We try to offer something different each month as well as plenty of wooden toys, the sling library, and peer support.
So far we have had sensory bottle making sessions, clothes and toy swaps, pottery painting, and a quiz.

We have plans to organise a music session, sling walk, and book swap. We try to keep it simple and while attendees have told us they’d like to see a guest speaker or have a more organised discussion, we’ve not yet managed to find out what the topics of interest are.

Personal fulfilment

Setting up the group gave me a project to throw myself in to while early in to my maternity leave and at risk of under-exercising my mind. Through it, I’ve reconnected with people I know who’ve had babies before or after me and I’d have otherwise lost touch with, and met some lovely new-to-me parent in my local community too.
Most importantly to me; it’s given me a group to go to once a month now I have returned to work, where I know I’ll see my friends and my son can play with his.

I’d been a member of the Green Bean Facebook group since I was around seven months pregnant, and in hindsight I wish I had attended a meeting before having my baby, as bumps are very welcome.

Top tip – do it now, enjoy it for longer!

I was made redundant three months before my due date so I’d have loved to make friends ahead of time, and that’s my top tip for expectant mums with a bit of “pre” maternity leave to spare – go now! And my top tip for people think ing of going for affiliation and setting up a group? Do that now, too – the sooner you do it; the longer you’ll have to enjoy it!