Winter Survival Appeal: 'This charity is our last-chance saloon'

St Michael’s Fellowship, one of the causes benefiting from our appeal, offers empowerment and training for parents at their wits’ end. Campaigns Editor David Cohen takes a look inside

For single mothers like Patience and fathers like Dilton, the stakes could not have been higher.

They had separately been referred to a residential family assessment centre run by St Michael’s Fellowship in south London, where Patience moved in with her newborn and Dilton arrived with his partner and their three-year-old daughter. For 12 weeks, each family would be closely monitored and given parenting training and at the end of the process, they would either leave with their children or their children would be taken into care.

In each case, there were grave reasons for concern. Patience, in her late twenties, had arrived from Africa two years ago and was feeling depressed and isolated and struggling to survive on £92 a week. Dilton, 24, was struggling to cope due to problems at home. In each case, the child’s wellbeing would be paramount.

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Patience said: “I was sleep-deprived, alone and crying a lot. When I was admitted to the house, it was a huge worry they would take away my child. You’re being watched around the clock to see if you’re a fit parent — your routine, how you feed the child, how you meet their basic needs. At first they would come into my room every 15 minutes, then half hour, then every hour, then less and less as their confidence grew and they could see I was learning lessons.”

Dilton said: “Our daughter was born with serious health complications and that caused a lot of stress that took its toll. I was struggling to earn a living, which knocked my self-esteem. Our respective families were concerned about our ability to bring up our daughter and so social workers got involved and we were referred to the St Michael’s Fellowship residential assessment centre.”

More than a helping hand: Bez Noutash, right, from St Michael’s Fellowship with Dilton
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St Michael’s Fellowship is one of the charities we are funding with a £50,000 grant from our Winter Survival Appeal in partnership with Comic Relief. Based in Lambeth, they have been going for more than 100 years and work with 200 young parents like Patience and Dilton a year, providing an outreach service with one-to-one and group support empowering these young parents to build a future for their families. Almost 70 per cent of the children at risk are under a month old and 97 per cent are under a year. Overall, 85 per cent of parents assessed in their residential centres get to keep their children — a remarkable outcome given the scale of transformation that is often required.

Both Patience and Dilton were positively assessed and kept their children. How did this happen?

Bez Noutash, 39, a parent practitioner for St Michael’s Fellowship who worked with Dilton, said: “He suffers anxiety and his mood had been low. He’d been through a lot. I was trying to get him up at 8am every morning, eating properly and into the gym. I wanted to give him some get-up-and-go so he could be a motivated dad and the best version of himself. I put a rocket up Dilton and he met me all the way.”

Bez helped him get his dream job as a full-time children’s football coach. Bez said: “Dilton had a zero hours contract and sometimes got just three hours of work a week. You can’t support a family on that. He is dyslexic but I helped him update his CV and apply for his chosen job as a children’s football coach — which he got. It shows what people are capable of with the right support.” Dilton said: “Bez is like my brother. He helps me manage stress situations and has taught me not to react on first impulse. I feel I am on a new path.” Patience’s support came from Ann-Marie Wallace, a practitioner for St Michael’s Fellowship, who said: “When I first met Patience, she had a premature baby and was struggling because of money and terrible accommodation in a hotel room. We helped her get a better room in a house with other mothers and a £300 allowance to which she was entitled and she was able to buy some essential items, including bedding, a blender and a TV.”

She added: “We also helped her access services in the community and she now takes her daughter to playgroups and is getting to know other parents. She feels less isolated and has become more independent. Crucially, her baby is thriving.”

Patience, rocking her baby and fixing her hair, said: “I no longer feel on my own since Anne-Marie started advocating for me and connecting me to other parents. Life is hard when you don’t have family to turn to. When I had a rough day, I used to feel like giving up, but now I turn to other parents. St Michael’s makes me feel worthwhile. And human.”

How you can help

£10 could provide a nourishing meal for a Londoner every day for a month

£20 could provide a duvet and pillow to a young person helping them sleep at night

£50 could contribute to a new school uniform for a child fleeing with a parent from an abusive relationship

£100 could provide 400 meals for families at a local community centre

£300 could pay for all that’s needed by a family expecting a baby, including new cot, mattress and pram

£1,750 could get a truck packed with enough food for 7,000 meals

In a nutshell

We have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis

To make a donation, visit