Alternatives Trust - East London
Alternatives Trust East London started in 1994 by Plaistow resident Julia Acott in her front room. It provides holistic support to vulnerable local families, working with about 80 women and their children through the We Are Family Club, a weekly social held in the Welcome Centre at Memorial Community Church in Plaistow. Julia, herself a counsellor, originally set up Alternatives Trust to help women who needed support around issues of pregnancy choices and pregnancy loss. She was inspired after hearing one woman say – with tears – that despite the fact that she didn’t want to have an abortion, there seemed to be no alternative. Alternatives Trust provides specialist support and counselling in this area, along with relationships education in local schools and colleges.
Nowadays, the majority of the work focuses on supporting women who have become pregnant in challenging circumstances, and are generally abandoned to bring up a child alone, with no family or friends to support them. Around four out of five are homeless and have no recourse to public funds. The We Are Family Club runs each Monday and provides a social and supportive place for women to meet other mums who are in – or have been in – a similar situation. It offers informal teaching on life skills and parenting skills, celebrations of birthdays and personal achievements.
Outings to the seaside are a highlight of the year and the club also offers practical help from support workers who can help with with paperwork, housing, etc. There is an Acorn midwives’ clinic after the session, and thanks to generous donations from local people, there is a bank of second-hand baby clothes and equipment. WAF helps mums to become great parents, and gives them hope and aspiration for the future as they see other women moving on. Their more confident parenting means that their children are closer to the expected developmental milestones and ready to start school without the disadvantages often associated with poverty.
When their children go to school or nursery, most mums are ready to move into work or training. For some, it has proved difficult to find jobs once they have the right to work in the UK, because they have no qualifications or experience and have children to look after. To this end, a group of mums are working together on different enterprise projects including a pop-up café once a week in Plaistow, the WAF CAF, which is moving into catering for events.
One mum has started a successful cake making business! Some women train as volunteers to help other people in crisis as Community Buddies. Others are working together to plan new enterprises. Alternatives is based in Forrest House in Plaistow, and continues to work in the same spirit as Muriel Forrest, the woman the house is named after. Many decades ago she also gave support to vulnerable mums and children in Plaistow. It is a delight to continue this work on the same premises, and to see mums and children enjoying its wonderful garden.