‘I like to know I’m making a difference to other people’ – Gemma’s story

Posted 2 June 2023

This Volunteers Week we’d like to give a big shout-out to all our volunteer group coordinators. We have around 40 local Gingerbread groups across England and Wales, helping single parents connect and make local friends.

We caught up with one local group coordinator, Gemma, to find out what she enjoys about her role.

How long have you been running your group, and what first inspired you to get involved?

It was my Macmillan nurse who first suggested I get involved. I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she knew I needed something to keep me focused. I’m that kind of person – I need to connect with other people. If I don’t carry on and keep myself busy, I’ll just give in.

Not long after I joined, the group coordinator asked if I could help her run the group. We ran it together for a few months last year, and then since she stepped down in November I’ve been doing it by myself.

Tell us a bit about the group – how many of you are there and how often do you all meet up?

We’ve got about 50 active members. With this many people, obviously we’ve all got kids of different ages so not everyone wants to come to the same kind of meet-up.  I tend to set up get-togethers about a week in advance, and if I can’t make it I’ll make sure that someone else can fill in for me, welcoming any newcomers. We’ve got really active Facebook and Whatsapp groups for parents to chat to each other as well.

What do you think single parents get out of being part of a Gingerbread group?

I think we all get a lot out of having that interaction, that mutual support that comes from meeting other people in a similar situation. We all need a bit of a social life, a personal life as well as being parents. I think that’s why our parents-only nights out are always really popular, when we can go out for a drink and let our hair down!

What do you enjoy most about it personally?

For me it’s been a great way of finding out more about my local area, what’s going on in my community. And I like to know I’m helping, making a difference to other people.  Once a week I make a point of meeting up with one of our members, a mum who suffers quite badly with social anxiety. She’s got a baby, and getting out to see me is pretty much the only thing she’s managing to do socially at the moment. I know it’s helping her to get out and talk to someone different, even if it’s just for an hour. And it’s good for me too, because I get to have a cuddle with her baby!

It’s tough for a lot of single parents at the moment – so many people are telling me they can’t afford to come to a meet-up, or cover the cost of a coffee. That brings it home how difficult life can be – and why we need to be there for each other.  That’s what motivates me to keep going.

Thank you Gemma, and all our local group coordinators – your hard work and dedication is making a vital difference to single parents every single day of the year!