Billie attends our workshops in Brighton with her daughter Marceline
Cherishing the first precious few years with our babies is one of the most important things we can do as new parents. But what should be the most cherished time in our lives can often be the most stressful and challenging. Having the opportunity to reconnect with other parents experiencing the same challenges has made all the difference to Billie, a first-time mum from Brighton who also has two older step-children. Billie has been a regular attendee of First and Second Workshops in Brighton since Dec 2020.
With her first child being a Lockdown Baby, Billie's first experiences of motherhood were very isolated, and she longed to connect with other parents. She originally joined a different mother-and-baby group when Marceline was 6 months old. While she found the group to be very baby-focused, Billie was unable to interact with the other parents and carers. "I didn't get a chance to talk to the other parents around me because we had to focus on watching our babies. It almost felt like connecting with the other mothers was frowned upon."
After seeing a poster for First Workshops outside the Old Boat Community Centre, Billie assumed that the workshops were out of her budget, so she didn't attempt to learn more. However, after a further recommendation from her friend and existing attendee Melody, she learned she was eligible for the free concessional spaces and signed up. The first workshop she joined with Marceline was the Christmas Party in 2020: "The workshop felt a bit hipster, very Brighton, with activities around yoga, storytelling, and sharing your feelings. I’d never come across anything like it, but I knew from the very first session I definitely wanted to come back!"
We strongly believe that only focusing on the baby in these kinds of groups may not be enough, especially at a time when the parent or carer needs more support and encouragement than ever before. From the beginning, Billie found First Workshops to be leagues ahead when it came to addressing her emotional needs as a new parent. "I loved that the workshops were for the parents, too. They've created a judgement-free environment where we can sit and share our struggles with other parents. My little girl is my first baby, but I've also helped to bring up my two step-kids too, so we are very much a blended family. Thanks to the workshops, I had an opportunity to listen to other parents and realise that no two families are alike! We talk about things that I wouldn't usually share, like mum guilt, and crying is welcome! There's always a focus on how YOU are feeling, and how YOU are finding parenthood. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and I’ll get anxious before a therapy session or a session with work – but I never get anxious about going to First. I look forward to it every week, because it's so fun."
We talk about things that I wouldn't usually share, like mum guilt, and crying is welcome! There's always a focus on how YOU are feeling, and how YOU are finding parenthood.
For a baby, First Workshops can be an exciting time of the week when new experiences can be discovered, such as sights, sounds, tastes, textures and colours. But for parents, we want to offer more than just reflective moments, so including lots of fun and laughter helps to take the workshop experience to the next level. "I love Harry and Alex's stories – they’re just hilarious! They use whatever they can find around them so we can recreate the game at home with our little ones. Alex and Harry dress up sometimes or improvise when something goes wrong in the story or make a joke about forgetting the words so we’re all laughing. We often make a joke about the fact that an object they’re playing with isn't actually the thing they're telling the story about, so you have to use your imagination and it's always so funny with the parents laughing together!"
Connection with others is integrated into the very heart of our workshops, enabling Billie to forge strong friendships and share parenting experiences in a conscious and considerate manner. "Because the workshops have such a strong focus on the parents’ sharing feelings, everyone from the group has maintained close relationships. Marceline has also made friends and has an especially close attachment to another little girl, Ayla - she's essentially grown up with her, and Ayla now coincidentally lives right opposite us, so we've been able to nurture that special closeness between them."
Dedicated to feeding little ones’ curiosity and creating new memories, we asked Billie if she could share her favourite memory from her time at our workshops: "My favourite memory was when Marceline wasn't talking yet. She was interacting sweetly with another baby of a similar age in the group, Jasmine – they were ‘chatting’ or 'baby jabbering' with each other and having a nice interaction together. It was the loveliest thing to see, and Jasmine's mum and I just stood and watched them together. I loved seeing the babies connect in that way."
Marceline is quite shy, so she likes getting one-to-one time with me at the workshops. She's started to do a bit more of the dancing activities now, and I have seen her become more adventurous.
First and Second Workshops are not only about parent wellbeing, they're also about tapping into creative and artistic experiences. Billie has been able to appreciate the value of cooperation within a group, joining some wonderful artists from her local community to work on various projects and immersing herself and her baby in new creative processes. "I like the artistic elements of the workshops! My Mum is an artist, so I’ve grown up around art and I've always been that way inclined and studied Art at GCSE level. The visiting artists bring some cool ideas to the workshops and help me interact with the kids in a really fun way. I've also been encouraged to step out of my comfort zone, for example with the dancing workshop which was a new experience!"
There's nothing better than seeing your baby grow and progress and while we never put pressure on developmental milestones, it's great that Billie has been able to see the positive impact our workshops have had on Marceline's confidence. We often sing the same songs and repeat the same exercises so little ones have a sense of structure and can become familiar with and know what to expect each week. "Marceline is quite shy, so she likes going to the workshops and enjoys the one-on-one time with me. She'll often go and play by herself in the soft play area, or sit on my lap, but she's started to do a bit more of the dancing activities now and I have seen her be more adventurous. She also enjoys the yoga exercises, and she loved the stomping song, which is always such a favourite when you hold their little legs and see the massive smiles on all their faces. I've also seen her getting better at the Wiggle Song with the coloured scarfs. If you asked Marceline what her favourite thing about the Workshops is, she’d say the biscuits! Everyone's happy for her to do what she wants, and we’re going at her pace. She’s not pushed into doing things she doesn’t want to do or is not ready to do."
'First Workshops really are a one-of-a-kind place, so once Marceline got too old to carry on, I was devastated. Everyone cares about each other, there’s nothing you can say that’s wrong, so I insisted that they start Second Workshops so we could carry on!
"I do find it hard now that I've moved into the Second group because we miss our friends in First spending time with everyone in the way we used to. I often stay late to bump into our friends coming out of First so we can say hello."
First Workshops (and now Second Workshops) is a place where Billie has been able connect with her inner artist, create life-long memories with her daughter, and nurture new friendships that she can continue into the future.