A CHILDREN’S charity has started running online baby groups during lockdown to give local families support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Botley Bridges is a community-led charity based at Botley School in Elms Road, Oxford. The charity has the aim of supporting the care and upbringing of children aged up to 11 living in Botley. The group has now taken its service online.

Botley Bridges hopes to replace some of the universal services that were lost when local children’s centres closed in 2017. It is reliant on grants and donations to continue to provide its services.

The centre says that now, more than ever, it is needed by families with young children as many do not have access to their usual support networks.

Coordinator Hayley Hayle has been holding Facebook Live interactive story and singing sessions twice a week from her garden shed.

The sessions have also suggested ideas for home learning, including easy and cheap craft activities with everyday household items.

The charity has also been running two baby sessions a week using Zoom.

Parents can sign up to the class to share information, support each other and join in with and learn, songs suitable for children under the age of one.

Read also: Bicester parents have mixed feelings about schools reopening from next week

In each Zoom baby session, there is also a relevant baby topic such as early language and communication and looking after yourself.

One parent said: “I’ve found these virtual sessions so important in keeping the kids connected and feeling part of the community.

“All the activity ideas have helped keep them happy and occupied. It’s a really valuable and important service. Thank you.”

Botley Bridges has recognised that there is a new set of families who would have given birth during the lockdown period.

For these families, not only have they not been able to access the professional support usually available to parents of a new baby, they are also missing out on family support due to social distancing regulations, in turn leading to feelings of isolation.

The group says its baby Zoom meetings have helped create a community for new parents.

Read also: Oxford: Rebellious Business Network keeps online connections

Botley Bridges has formed a partnership with The Maple Tree in Wheatley, Donnington Doorstep and Flos in the Park in Oxford, NHS Health Visitors, Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support, Oxford Sling Library, Motherkind Café and OXPIP.

With these partnerships the charity has now been running Zoom baby groups with visiting specialists for six weeks. Up to 60 families have signed up from all over Oxfordshire.

Many parents have left anonymous feedback.

One parent said: “It has been so isolating as a first-time mum under lockdown. This group helps me feel less alone, exchange tips and advice with other new mums and build new friendships for the future.”

Another said: “I’ve always felt less alone afterwards. It’s just been lovely to see the faces of other new mums and babies. I have also found it a helpful forum to share some of my challenge as a new mum.”

One added: “As we don’t get to meet other new mums under lockdown, it really is reassuring to hear what everyone else is going through to know you aren’t alone and what is normal for a baby of a particular age.

“I’ve sadly lost both my parents and my sister lives in Devon, so it’s also a bit like extra family support at this time. It’s great to have the visiting specialists too. They are such a great help.”

For more information or to sign up to the Zoom baby group visit: botleybridges.org