Welcome to our new project workers

Since April 2016 our two new project workers have been widely welcomed by  kinship carers, volunteers and the team.

Meet Ancha Stoodley


Hi, I’m Ancha Stoodley.  I started as a Project Worker with The Relative Experience Project following a 5 year post as a Parenting Worker at Northumberland Youth Offending Service, supporting families where a young person had committed an offence.  Prior to that, I have extensive experience in the drug and alcohol field, spending 6 years as part of the Therapeutic Care team at Phoenix House residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in South Shields.   I have a further 3 years experience working in drug and alcohol services in Worcestershire and Birmingham on both a paid and voluntary basis and hold a BA (Hons) in Sociology.  I am passionate about volunteering and working with families and have two children aged 8yrs and 13yrs.

I currently attend the Newcastle and South Shields Kinship carer support groups fortnightly on a Tuesday as well as meeting kinship carers in their homes and the community. I am thoroughly enjoying meeting all kinship carers and volunteers currently accessing the Relative Experience Project.  It has been humbling to hear kinship carers’ stories and I have been incredibly touched by the unconditional care provided to these children by their carers.

Meet Darren McGlen

Darren web

Hello! I’m Darren McGlen.  I worked in the community sector for the past 12 years having previously worked in various roles within the NHS for over 10 years.  I have vast experience working with voluntary sector with particular focus on young people and their families, those with disabilities, behaviour problems and involved in the justice system.  I am a parent of two as well as being a qualified foster carer.

From the onset I realised what a great team we have in the Relative Experience Project which made my induction so easy.  Meeting many of the Kinship Carers so quickly also gave me a great insight in to the challenges faced and how we, as a project, can help make their journey that bit more manageable.  Being a Kinship Carer is sometimes a very daunting and demanding  responsibility and one which they should be offered help with.  We have an amazing bunch of people who are on this journey so being able to be part of helping them through this an absolute pleasure.

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Goodbye and Welcome

As this is my last week as Project Manager for Relative Experience I just wanted to say good luck to everyone in the project – volunteers, kinship carers, staff and stakeholders.

I am delighted that Dawn Jenkins will be taking over from me as Project Leader. Dawn has been with the project as project worker since the start and will provide both continuity of experience and knowledge and a fresh leadersip approach and enthusiasm to the work.

Cath Halse


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Relative Experience Volunteer of the year for North Tyneside

Alice Taylor is a volunteer with the Relative Experience Project. She has just won the volunteer of the year award from North Tyneside Voluntary Organisations development Agency (VODA)

Ray Blythe, project worker for Relative Experience was asked to explain why Alice deserves an award. This is an extract of what she said…

Alice Taylor has been involved with the Relative Experience project since it started as a pilot in 2012. She has  gone on to volunteer with the project after having what she describes as a “life saving” befriending experience. Alice has 3 adult children and a grandson, 6yr old Cameron. But the thing that sets her apart from other grandparents is that she is also a kinship carer – she is raising her grandson, Cameron – and this has had a profound effect on her life.

Alice’s eldest daughter suffers from severe mental ill-health problems. When she was pregnant with Cameron, Alice supported her and actually thought things would be ok for them both. But during the first four years of his life Alice provided an increasing amount of care and support for Cameron, until eventually Alice had to step in to bring him up. Her situation was difficult to say the least. She still had her own children at home – she was supporting her daughter though mental illness and she was working full time. This time proved so stressful it was a factor in her break up with her partner and took such a toll on her own health that she had to seek medical help for depression.

Speaking about that time Alice says

‘My head was in a mess – I was a mum, a step mum, and a grandma. How can any one person play the roles of all three? I had to step back from my own daughter so that I could do the best for my grandson. It hurt like hell and I suffered many nights feeling totally alone and full of despair – crying myself to sleep’

Not only does Alice volunteer as a befriender but she has created and established (with support from the Relative Experience Project) a kinship carer support group that runs fortnightly in Wallsend.

During this Summer Alice has helped in running a summer activity programme for kinship families across the region – and even organised her own event in Wallsend.

‘when it came down to it – when it was evident that my daughter could not cope, I felt I had no choice – I thought, how could I as a grandparent let my grandchild be taken away – so I had to say yes – even though the result was life changing . I kept my grandson in the family because it was the best thing for him – and there are thousands of grandparents doing the same all over the country. I hope we get more recognition and support in the future so our grandchildren, who may have had a unstable start, can look forward to a better life in the future. But this project- Relative Experience – has changed my life. ’

We are all so proud of the journey she has taken with our project, first as a service user and now as one of our volunteers. Volunteers are the foundation of our project and we would like Alice to know how incredibly grateful for her hard work we are, and how incredibly proud we are of the volunteer she has grown into.


Sheila, Alice, Alice’s Mam nad Dad and grandson Cameron



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Summer Fun in the North East

Great fun was had by all who attended the Discovery Museum in Newcastle yesterday. As part of the Kinship Carer Summer Activity programme, Relative Experience organised a visit to this interactive museum together with volunteers from the Newcastle Kinship Care support group.

Next activities are Friday 21st August – Indoor Games at St Luke’s, Wallsend and Wed 26th August Fun in the Park at Saltwell Park, Gateshead

Lucy, Shannon and Cameron enjoying the experience of ‘Newcastle through the ages’


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Speaking out at a special event

Come and join the Relative Experience team at a special FREE event for kinship carers from across the North East on Wednesday 11 February.

Speaking Out for Kinship Care  will run from 9:45amto 3.00pm at the Trinity Centre in Middlesbrough. The event, which is for all kinship carers and the professionals and organisations who work with them, will include sessions facilitated by the Houses of Parliament Outreach Service. It aims to raise awareness of the issues and challenges facing kinship carers, help them to influence policy and practice at national and local levels and increase knowledge of Parliament’s work, including how to effectively engage with its members.

We’d love to see you there – click the links below for the full programme and a map of how to get to the Trinity Centre, plus a booking form.

Speaking Out for Kinship Care conference (flyer)
Map Trinity
Booking Form (Speaking Out for Kinship Care)

It should be a fascinating event – places are limited and must be booked in advance – so get in touch with Yvonne as soon as possible. Just send an email  to yvonne.brown@grandparentsplus.org.uk or call 0191 200 5034.

We hope to see you there!

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Scale up starts to spread

We’ve had a hectic few months at the project, expanding our team and getting set up to extend Relative Experience far and wide across the North East.

Kim and Vicky remain with the scale up project but sadly Project Worker Jenny decided to move on to enjoy retirement and spend more time with her own lovely granddaughter. She will be greatly missed by the team but hasn’t been allowed to escape completely – she will keep in touch as part of the project advisory group.

New additions to the team are Project Manager Cath, Administrator Yvonne, Project Workers Dawn and Ray, and Volunteer Development Officers Sue and Julie. All are based at the Meadows Community Centre apart from Sue, our first member of staff in Middlesbrough. See contact us for info on how to get in touch and the photo below to see who’s who.

The team at Relative Experience

The new team. From left: Dawn, Julie, Ray, Vicky, Sue, Yvonne, Kim and Cath

With the team in place, Kim and Vicky delivered the first new training course in September and we now have seven new volunteers ready to support kinship carers as befrienders – well done to them all!

new volunteers group

Well done to all of our new volunteers!

As well as our befriending service we will also be helping kinship carers set up their own support groups in the region. In Middlesbrough a new Kinkids group has been formed which Relative Experience is supporting and in Newcastle a new fortnightly group is up and running in Byker, run together with local charity PROPS. In Wallsend we are supporting kinship carer Alice, who has been befriended through our project, to set up a new group. And in Gateshead we’re working with social services – an open meeting for kinship carers has been organised for Thursday 20 November to check out the interest in a support group there.

So there’s a lot going on! We’ll be working with local authorities to raise the profile of kinship carers and improve services and will keep you updated on progress through our blog.

Posted by Cath Halse

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Face to face with our funders

Danny Silverstone meets our volunteers and kinship carers

Danny Silverstone meets volunteers and kinship carers from the Relative Experience Project

As the Relative Experience Project moves into the next exciting phase we were pleased to be able to welcome Danny Silverstone, Big Lottery Fund Committee Member, who was part of the Board that agreed our scale up funding.

Danny came to visit us at our North Shields base and got to meet both our trained volunteer befrienders plus some kinship carers who are using our service.

The kinship carers were keen to tell Danny how much the Project had supported them over the past months and gave him a deeper insight into the issues they faced on a day-to-day basis.

Danny listened to their views with interest and assured the kinship carers that their views would be take on board and discussed with other BLF Committee Members.

It was great to be able to introduce the kinship carers and volunteers to one of the people responsible for the continued funding and give them the opportunity to really talk to each other.

Two of the kinship carers who were present at the meeting who have received support from a befriender showed a great interest in becoming a befriender themselves – which shows how much their confidence has grown. We are keen to welcome them into the next training which is scheduled for September.

Posted by Jenny Mckenna

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Hitting the headlines

Following the recent good news that the Relative Experience project will be funded for a further three years, BBC Radio Newcastle did a week-long feature on the issues faced by kinship carers cumulating in a live phone-in show which gave grandparents and other family members raising a relative’s child the chance to talk about their situation.

The switchboard at Radio Newcastle was overwhelmed by the number of calls that came through – kinship carers are often hidden and do not have many opportunities to be heard.

The Relative Experience project was mentioned constantly throughout the week, detailing the work we are doing in the North East. Look North (the local TV news) also did a three minute feature of the work one of our befriending volunteers has carried out with a kinship carer, highlighting the positive effect the befriending service had on the kinship carer’s life.

Sheila, Alice and Jenny pose for a photo in the House of Commons

Sheila, Alice and Jenny pose for a photo in the House of Commons

BBC news cameras followed the Relative Experience staff, volunteers and a kinship carer as we went to the Houses of Parliament in March to mark the end of the pilot project. We were taking part in an event aimed at presenting the finding of our evaluation to key decision makers, including Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP. Sheila, one of our volunteers, spoke during the event about her experiences, as did kinship carer Alice. It really did bring home how the power of the befriending relationship can change lives and was a wonderful experience for us all.

We are all excited about the ‘scale-up’ funding and are looking forward to taking the work of the Relative Experience Project further afield to a wider audience.

Posted by Jenny Mckenna

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Parenting, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From little acorns …

Things have been so busy at the project that the blog has been sadly neglected! However, we have exciting news to share with everyone – we have been chosen for scale-up funding by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund! We are absolutely delighted that our project will be funded for a further three years – huge thanks to the Lottery for their support, which will mean that the project will expand across the North East region building on the Newcastle-based pilot project.

The pilot project came to an end with two events. In February we gathered once again at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle to celebrate what the project had achieved – it didn’t seem possible that a whole year had passed since we held our launch event there! The event gave kinship carer Alice the chance to speak about the support her befriender had given her. “My befriender is a big help and I have no fear of saying the wrong thing or not being listened too,” said Alice. “There are a lot of people out there that suffer alone. I am proof of this, kinship carers do what we do for the love of our children and their children’s children and we need this support.” Volunteer Jackie also spoke about the befriender’s perspective and how getting involved with the project made her feel more confident.

The event included discussions on how best to support kinship carers before ending with lunch, which gave everyone the chance to chat and speak to the project team about our hopes for the future – at the time we didn’t know that we had been chosen for the scale-up funding so we were still keeping our fingers crossed.

Edward Timpson MP responds to Alice and Sheila's comments

Edward Timpson MP responds to Alice and Sheila’s comments

The second event took place on 26 March with kinship carers, volunteers and the project team coming down to London to the House of Commons. The event was hosted by Fiona Mactaggart MP and Edward Timpson MP, Minister for Children and Families, attended to hear directly from a kinship carer and volunteer from the project. Danny Silverstone from the Big Lottery Fund also spoke at the event and said some very kind words about the difference the project is making and why the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund will continue to support us for a further three years.

Three briefing papers have been written for the project, which were given to everyone at the London event. They focus on:

Relative Experience Briefing 1 – Issues and challenges for kinship carers
Relative Experience Briefing 2 – What is peer-to-peer support
Relative Experience Briefing 3 – Stories from the project

The findings of the Coram Evaluation Summary were also circulated and key outcomes were that the project had a positive effect on kinship carers’ mental well-being and self-confidence and volunteers found the experience challenging but highly rewarding.

So with these findings in mind we are about to start planning for three exciting years ahead – watch this space to find out how things develop as we watch our ‘little acorns’ grow.

Posted by Alison Blaxland

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Santa Smurf visits our volunteers!

Our volunteers have worked so hard this year to get in a position where they are able to go and meet kinship carers and give them one to one support. We wanted to give them a big thank you, so in December we organised a special Christmas party for all our volunteers and the kinship carers they are supporting.

A chance to thank all our wonderful volunteers and kinship carers

A chance to thank all our wonderful volunteers and kinship carers

We had a great day! With plenty of food and drink – and party games to keep the festivities going!

And we had a surprise guest to give out Christmas presents. Santa was too busy to make it and so we had a real live (blue) Smurf – much to the delight of the volunteers.

Santa Smurf makes a grand entrance!

Santa Smurf makes a grand entrance!

Everyone had fun and a few hours to enjoy themselves without the pressures of life in general.

So we want to give a huge THANK YOU to all our volunteers – they have given up so much time and offered their continued support to our Project and to the kinship carers they are visiting.

Posted by Santa Smurf

Santa Smurf - also known as project worker Jenny - with volunteer Jackie

Santa Smurf – also known as project worker Jenny – with volunteer Jackie

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