Group for bereaved families in Chipping Norton may be lost

Lydia Berry with a picture of baby Evelyn
Lydia Berry with a picture of baby Evelyn

A unique group offering support to bereaved parents, along with play facilities for their children, may be lost to the county.

The group, called Rainbow, is based at the Ace Centre, Chipping Norton which is earmarked for closure in the Oxfordshire County Council budget cuts.

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Lydia Berry, who established the group, said: “These parents need the specific empathy and support of those who have had the same experience, without having to organise childcare. The Saturday sessions allow fathers to come along - they need support too,” she said.

Mrs Berry said if Rainbow folds, there will be no resource for the current users, who come from all over Oxfordshire, for the support they need while their children play in safety.

Mrs Berry started the groupfollowing the birth of her second child Poppy. Her first child, baby Evelyn died soon after birth in 2011 - a year before - and Mrs Berry was aware of the huge gap in facilities for bereaved parents with other youngsters.

“Losing Evie was traumatic and horrific. Psychologically it was a very difficult time. I was desperate for another baby and had Poppy a year after we lost Evie.

“I had a new baby and needed to get out of the house but it needed to be a safe place and the Ace Centre was it.

“The health visitors based there were always there to approach for a chat. Bereaved parents access services more than most new parents as we are so anxious and we really need people like those at the Ace Centre.”

Although Mrs Berry received excellent support she knew other bereaved parents were the only people who could empathise from their own experience.

“I proposed the group and it was launched. It is the only type of support group with a playgroup in the country as far as I know,” she said.

“SANDS (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) is fantastic and holds parents’ support groups in Bicester but they are evening sessions and so you have to have childcare.

“The idea of Rainbow is that you can talk about all sorts of topics, but if you do need to talk about the ‘heavy stuff’ you can share it freely and know that the others ‘get it’.”

Rainbow sessions are held every two months and are run by Mrs Berry, who has trained as a volunteer at the Ace Centre.

She is concerned about the loss of the centre, not only because of Rainbow but because of the risks associated with removing preventative facilities.

The Ace Centre is only a few miles from Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency home. In media reports he described children’s centres as ‘vital’ services and said: “I firmly believe they should remain open.” He said the county council should protect frontline services and make cuts elsewhere.

Helen Ruff, head of the Ace Centre said, “The support playgroup meets a real need for those who face the tough challenge of parenting while coming to terms with terrible loss.

“We believe bereaved parents are often a silent group, as they must carry on functioning for their other children while grieving in private.”

The Rainbows Support playgroup sessions for 2016 will be held at 10.30am–12.30pm on Saturday, March 5, April 30, June 4, August 6, September 24, November 19.

For more information contact Lydia Berr at oxfordshirerainbows@gmail.com