CAPTION: New parents who met each other on the Begin Well course in Barnstaple have continued to hold socially-distanced gatherings after the birth of their children

Devon churches’ antenatal courses are blooming

Posted: 19th October, 2020

While 2020 will go down in history as the year when everything from exams to festivals had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a parenting course being run at churches in Devon has been going from strength to strength.

Begin Well is an antenatal course with a Christian ethos. It was developed by a health visitor and consultant obstetrician with nearly 40 years experience in the NHS between them.

It was first piloted at Holy Trinity Church in Barnstaple in February.

Naomi Shaw, who has been running the courses, said “Begin Well has been going really well. We are just starting our fifth course of the year, so that’s 50 families who have been through with us.

“Such a lot happened between our last face to face course in February and our April course.

“We had led the first in the usual way with no anticipation that these families would be the first to have lockdown babies with a totally difference experience to what anyone expected.

“Thankfully, despite all that happened they had had the opportunity to meet others going through the same experience and formed a really tight-knit support group for one another.

The course covers giving birth and the changes that having a baby brings to a family

“This group kept in touch with our Begin Well team too and shared photos of their weekly meet-ups (socially distanced of course).

“We then continued to run the course via Zoom, which obviously wasn’t our ideal method as nothing beats face to face interaction.

“Much of the course had to be adapted to meet the needs of those expecting babies during lockdown and provide new ways of dealing with the fear, unknown and isolation that so many were facing.

“We found again that the groups bonded, despite not actually meeting one another.”

The Begin Well course lasts 5 weeks and aims to give parents-to-be the starting blocks for family life. It is evidence-based and designed to be run by volunteers.

Topics include: giving birth, meeting our baby, changes for me and us and caring for our baby.

It is based on the NHS curriculum and links new parents with people and resources in their local community – so they are also supported once they have had their baby.

“Please don’t ever stop these classes, new Mummies need you!”

One of the new mums who attended Begin Well at Holy Trinity said “Naomi, the midwives, health visitors and everyone else involved was absolutely tremendous!

“I was having my first baby and had no idea what to expect and felt so much more in-the-know after each session.

“What they taught me was invaluable.

“I also met some of the greatest people there who have been my rock throughout having the baby and have been there through the “lonely” hours early in the morning when you need people most.

“Please don’t ever stop these classes, new Mummies need you!”

“We feel it will be our privilege to support parents when they most need it” Lucy Williams, Children and Families worker

The course is now being run or planned at four churches in Devon, including at St Matthias Church in Torquay and in the parishes of Alphington and Ide on the outskirts of Exeter.

Children and Families Worker, Lucy Williams, said “At the beginning of this year some of us from the church went to a a Begin Well introductory session run by the Diocese of Exeter.

“We were saddened to hear that not all new parents are offered antenatal classes, but so glad to hear that Begin Well had decided to support new parents with a new parenting course of their own.

“As a church family we are so excited to be having our first Begin Well Introductory session this week.  We feel it will be our privilege to support parents when they most need it.”

Clare Cooke, the 0 to 5s Mission Advisor for the Diocese of Exeter, said “I am delighted with how Begin Well is going in Devon.

Begin Well was developed by medical professionals Karen Egitto and Louise Hughes

“In January we held a launch day in Exeter and were heartened to see so many churches interested in offering this crucial outreach service.

“Since then, two churches have had training with Begin Well and are now ready to offer courses to expectant families in their churches.

“We provided bursaries for these churches to pay for their training, starter pack and registration fee as we are so keen to see this missional work in action.

We were thrilled to hear that Holy Trinity, who were trained a year ago, have continued to offer courses during lockdown.

Clare said churches interested in finding out more about running the courses should contact Karen Egitto and Louise Hughes at Begin Well or get in touch with her.

Back in Barnstaple, Naomi Shaw said the church was keen to keep supporting parents once their babies were born.

“We continue to run our under one’s group called ‘Baby and Me at Trinity’ via zoom and this was somewhere where our new Begin Well families could feed into.

“We also made little care packages for all our Baby & Me and Begin Well families, which included some baby soaps, chocolates, the bags and a little message. It was only something small but hopefully made them smile, gave a little encouragement during the tough times and hopefully showed them something of Gods heart for them.”

You can find out more about how to run a Begin Well course by contacting Clare Cooke email.