We are here to support, promote and develop voluntary and community action in Middlesbrough

The power of digital to support collaboration

Ordinary Radical – Lucy Cuzzocrea

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the ordinary radicals changing our world by being authentic in their relationships and the difference this makes to people’s lives. One of those ‘ordinary radicals’ is Lucy Cuzzocrea (picture taken is displayed in Mima), founder of Mama Mates.

With a strong leaning towards attachment parenting models and frustrated about the isolation of so many parents, Lucy created a digital platform on Facebook as a means of connecting parents, through their shared experience,  with the intention of offering 24/7 peer support on-line, not just around the struggle and support needs of parenting but around any issue affecting that parenting. The group, which tightly manages its content and membership, is affiliated to https://attachmentparenting.co.uk  which has grown to over 1000 local parent members has also developed a number of spin off groups including:

  • Mama Mates -Attachment Parenting UK Middlesbrough
  • Mama Mates:
    • Events and Meet Ups (building connections and community)
    • Market Place (recycling and sharing equipment)
    • Community Gardeners
    • Crafts and Upcycling
    • Book Club
    • Business Mamas
    • Disability Parenting Support

and whilst dads are not excluded from any of the Mama Mates groups more recently a group for dads, Dad Division was launched too! 

It takes a village to raise a child

I love these groups and the impact such a simple idea is having on Middlesbrough’s families. The concept is pretty basic, it is simply about one person, and many others at any given point in time, who don’t necessarily have all the answers, although often they have some great answers, reaching out to another and communicating, I can support you, or direct you to someone else better equipped, right where you are at.

This support has blown my mind as I’ve followed the activity of the group. It is not uncommon for people in the group to share, the challenges of children presenting issues, encouragement for when life is tough, information and advice around everything and anything from weaning to domestic abuse to health and wellbeing and so much more, the impact of never ending and often conflicting messages of what constitutes ‘positive parenting’, necessary discipline for children and the numerous references to clashes and frustrations when professionals have communicated ‘they know best’.

But this group is so much more than a sounding board and a treasure trove of community intelligence about the day to day lived experience of parenting. The impact of this digital platform has been significant in building resilience in parents, the emergence of a vast peer-support network, the building of trusted relationships, the offer of sound information, advice and guidance, the provision of material goods and a community of people that are invested in the future of our families to name just a few. In Lucy’s own word’s “It takes a village to raise a child but not many of us have access to a village anymore”

Community Intelligence

I was introduced to Lucy last year after I’d seen her passion showcased in MIMA who were exhibiting a project focused upon ordinary people supporting their local communities. Meeting with Lucy was an honour, she talked enthusiastically about the difference Mama Mates is making for so many families and its power to mobilise other parents to support each other in practical and authentic ways.

However, what was interesting to me, in the context of my work around early help support for children and families in Middlesbrough, was listening to her as she outlined her frustrations at the lack of voice parents have in choices around their children, especially when those choices differ from the ‘professional’ advice they are given, how, in her view, attachment with children is often damaged by the very models of parenting offered by ‘professionals’ and how there needs to be a significant shift in power so that parents are valued as experts by their own experience and can work with professionals to shape the support services they need way before families are in crisis.    

How we can collaborate for change

My relationship with Lucy and the connection with Mama Mates and all that I have learned has opened up lots of opportunities for deeper thinking around the broader strategic work MVDA is engaged in. How we respond to information available in the sector, how we make better use of digital platforms to support our reach and engagement, how we critically assess the learning we are sharing and how it can be used to influence and, where relevant bring about social change which impacts Middlesbrough for the better.

MVDA’s Community Intelligence model is one such area of work, looking at how we usefully extract and put to good effect the rich and diverse information about the needs and issues experienced by Middlesbrough’s communities held by the many VCOs working with them on the ground.  MVDA is also doing some thinking about a VCS led response to better prevention in the context of our work with VCOs in a number of areas including with children and families. If you are interested in being part of this discussion I would love to hear from you.

Tracey Brittain

MVDA

Senior Strategic Development Officer