Higher Walton dad helping to tackle loneliness with Facebook support group for single parents
A Higher Walton dad is running a Facebook support group helping single parents deal with loneliness during lock-down.
James Niven, a single dad-of-two, set up Northwest Single Parents Group For Positivity and Socialising on Facebook last August with his friend to provide a positive and supportive space for organising fun family meet-ups.
Now it is being used to help keep people feeling connected with others and raise their spirits during the pandemic.
The 39-year-old teaching assistant said: "I was in a group for single parents but it was quite negative. It didn't host events and seemed to be used more for people to have a go at their exes."
In contrast, James and his team of 12 admins, including co-founder and fellow dad-of-two Stephen Walker, of Darwen, host adult and child-friendly events every couple of weeks, such as coffee meets and play dates.
They have even arranged holidays to places like Butlins, as well as Christmas parties and trips to parks, the theatre, and Energi Trampolining.
And as many single parents struggle with feelings of loneliness, and find making new friends a challenge due to the difficulty of juggling various responsibilities like child care and work, the group also offers a non-judgemental way to meet new people and chat about your experience of rearing your offspring alone.
"We wanted to create something that would help single parents feel less lonely and isolated. Members can talk to each other, ask questions and make friends," James added.
"There are lots of different members with a range of experiences. Some are widowed and others have children with a disability or special needs. It's great for them to chat to people who understand their situation."
Lock-down has brought an influx of new members - 20 to 30 in just one week - as parents struggle to cope with the emotional impact of being cooped up at home with no other adults to talk to.
"A lot more people are feeling lonely and I think the pandemic has had a big effect on people's mental health. It's tough for everyone," said James.
"Some members can't see their children during lock-down as they're isolating or their ex-partner is concerned about them running between different houses. And Facetime just doesn't match seeing your kids in person. It's a really difficult time.
"On the other hand, it's also hard for those who are on their own with children, as they're juggling home-schooling and doing activities to keep everyone entertained. As a parent in general, it's a very stressful time. People are feeling worried and anxious.
"One of the things we've been doing to engage people is hold mental health check-ins. We put out a post of Mondays asking members to comment about how they're feeling and they then offer each other support.
"The group has given them somewhere to go where they know they're not going to be judged. It's a supportive and positive place.
"Meeting people through the group has helped me, as you always have someone to chat to or somewhere to go on a down day to help lift your spirits or get ideas."
It is also helping to spread cheer during the pandemic by keeping people entertained with events on Zoom, like quizzes, Bingo, discos, live story time and scavenger hunt competitions, while members provide each other with inspiration for ideas about home-schooling, and the admin team post cooking videos and craft challenges.
It now boasts more than 5,50 members - and perhaps much of its popularity is down to the difference it is making in people's lives.
James added: "Many say it has helped with their confidence and some have even said they wouldn't go out and socialise, and didn't have many friends. It's helped them realise they're not alone."
To join the group or for more information, search for Northwest Single Parents Group For Positivity and Socialising on Facebook.