Fun time for the volunteers

“I’ve never laughed so much” …..  the volunteers came together for their annual Christmas party in Wallsend.  Pass the parcel was taken to a new level, wearing earmuffs, beard and hat at each unwrapping stage.

‘Pin the nose on Rudolph’ caused mayhem and the home cooked buffet has sent everyone running to  Slimmers World!

Take special note of the ‘herd of Relative Experience staff members’….. ears up, bells a jangling as they launched into games and festivities




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Overwhelming generosity

We have been overwhelmed in the office by the generosity of individuals and local organisations who donated gifts for kinship care families.  It took the staff and volunteers days to deliver the presents to 47 families.  Look at this Angel tree from Northern Powergrid…

It was hectic, yet two of our volunteers Sheila and Simone became santa’s helpers too –  It has been a tremendous year for support for us, especially from the Salvation Army, North Tyneside Council, Gateshead Carers, Sainsburys and Gordon Brown Law Firm.  Thank you!

Happy New Year to all kinship carers and volunteers



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Wallsend Kinship Care Support Group

There was a lot of ghoulish baking going on and spooky games at the recent Halloween event.  The children have fun and enjoy getting to know other kinship children in the same situation.  The Wallsend Kinship Care Support Group is run for kinship carers (and children in the school holidays) every fortnight, on a Friday at St Luke’s Church, Frank Street, Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.  If you are interested in this group or our other kinship care support groups in the North, Teesside and Durham areas, please email us.

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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 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

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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

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