As a new mother in the Waikato area, Catherine realised through her own experiences that there was a desperate need for a supportive community for new mothers in the area. Having moved from Auckland, the transition to the Waikato meant that she lost the community she had built up around herself in her previous city. Leaving behind a wonderful antenatal group Catherine was determined to find a replacement. ‘Isolation’ was the term which came to Catherine’s mind. Despite having her mum in the area, she was yearning for a group of women who were at a similar age and stage as she was, full of the same questions and experiences she was currently having to process. She was yearning for that connection with other mothers.
During her search, she came upon the Parent Centre’s post-natal groups as a possible solution but found that the process of selection would require permission from each member of the existing group for Catherine to join. Not exactly an inviting environment for any woman going through one of the most vulnerable and life-changing moments of their lives. Catherine eventually was welcomed into a group and also joined Playcentre to find her own village in raising her two children.
While at Playcentre in 2006 Catherine heard about the Space programme. She saw the programmes core values fitting well within Playcentre and set about gathering a team of likeminded woman to help get Space up and running in Waikato Playcentres.
Sourced from Lower Hutt Playcentre Association in Wellington, Space is a New Zealand born concept which was built upon from its grassroots Playcentre form. After becoming formalised and structured, Space took off around New Zealand and has since been introduced into daycares, church-based groups but most significantly Playcentres throughout the country.
Passionate about the cause, Catherine worked unpaid for the first 3 years writing proposals and obtaining seed funding and support from the Waikato Playcentre Association. In 2009, Space in Waikato Playcentres officially began. Catherine, alongside her team of volunteers, and paid facilitators worked overtime to get Space running. Catherine was enveloped in a community of passionate and inspired woman who shared the same philosophy which Space has centred around: The best and first educator of your baby is YOU. Some key members of Catherine’s team included Jo Gaylor, Kathy Rollo (who are still current facilitators), and Jennifer Parry. To get the word out, Catherine and her team would speak at every antenatal class, strive to create network connections with Plunket, and reach out to anyone who would listen about what Space was all about. This journey led them everywhere, from hospitals to mental-health nurses, to their church groups, anyone who had any connection with mothers - especially those in crisis or desperate need. Through every stage of the game, Catherine was supported by the Playcentre Association in her quest to obtain the required financial grant and the initial building blocks from which Space could blossom. Catherine spoke of the importance of financial support in her ability to get Space off the ground, including the initial input of $15,000 from Playcentre Association to support the cause and the guidance given by Kay Connolly to ensure that the programme would continue to be financially sustainable.
From the beginning, sustainability and growth were always on Catherine’s mind. Ensuring that the quality they introduced and expected of each other at the beginning would be maintained no matter how wide-spread Space became in the Waikato region. ‘Whatever we did had to be sustainable at every level’.
Space Waikato began Dinsdale and Riverdowns, before expanding to St Andrews and Nawton (both dedicated to solely running Space sessions).
Quality has always been one of the key factors in Catherine’s management of Space at Waikato Playcentres. Not only the quality of the resources but of the quality of the support they give to their Session Facilitators. Catherine’s workforce of Space facilitators are Playcentre trained parents who have a personal wealth of experience from their own mothering journeys. Catherine acknowledged that creating a great work environment for their facilitators was also key. This involved ensuring that their work environment was stable and consistently up to par, while also implementing streamlined administrative processes and resourcing which ensured that the facilitators were encouraged to focus on the most crucial part of their job: the relationships they have with the parents. Facilitators are also encouraged to bounce ideas and experiences off each other in the form of exemplars, introducing personal development and team-work qualities to the work-force. Catherine recognised that the population of women who could become facilitators was a rather limited one, finding women who were willing to be vulnerable with others in sharing their own journeys while simultaneously empowering them to meet their fullest potential as a primary caregiver to their child requires a lot more than just experience. It requires a certain type of personality which encourages a diverse perspective of parents styles to the table and ensure that everyone in the room feels welcome to share without judgement. “It’s part of our kaupapa - everyone in this room has a place here.”
A key focus of the Space curriculum is empowerment. ‘Our mission is to empower parents to feel confident in their abilities and knowledge in the parenting of their own children. We believe in the philosophy that a parent should be the first-carer and educator of their baby and we believe that our sessions encourage this.’
Space’s structure and curriculum really invite parents to take the lead in regard to their child’s introduction to learning and their first experiences of the world. It’s this curriculum which creates one of Space’s many great strengths. As well as encouraging and developing an amazing community and environment for baby to grow up in, the mother is really supported throughout her experience of motherhood, whether she’s a new mum or a mum of many. Every child and each parent experience is different, it’s these differences and this diversity which makes Space’s community really strong. Catherine and her work are life-changing, and the impact of Space can be successfully seen throughout the Waikato region!
Seeing the sustainable growth of Space from its shallow roots into this ingrained branch spreading through local communities, SPACE has recently hit the point where further expansion would require a re-building process of existing processes. With the Waikato area being so substantially large, Catherine is looking towards Te Awamutu as their next location on the list. Space is in a constant process of evaluation and evolution. Taking the feedback from group session’s as well as the thoughts and experiences of people you meet throughout the community who have come to Space during their journey. Not to mention the array of meaningful relationships and bonds born throughout the community between mothers. The ability for mothers to be able to still meet and share about their journey with the same mums they met at their Space group enables the impact of Space to expand from just the initial contact. From my personal experience, as the daughter of a Space facilitator, I shared with Catherine how amazing it is to walk through our local supermarket with my mum and be approached by so many mothers in our community who either are in Morag’s current sessions or who she has known since the first sessions she facilitated.
Mums and babes of Space sessions have gained a community and a tribe for life. It really does take a village to raise a child, and this is exactly what Space encourages. Catherine and I spoke about how many mothers these days leave the community in which they grew up with. However, in acknowledging that at our core we’re social animals who truly require interaction with other people to thrive, Space has provided a neutral territory for every mother to be invited into a new support network of mothers who they can connect with on a personal level.
We still are flesh, bone, and emotion. We need each other.
It’s these periods of isolation which can spiral into really dangerous times. Post-natal depression runs throughout our communities, however, mothers at every stage of their journey are invited into Space’s open and welcoming environment where you are reminded of your immense value, your power and of your part here in our community. Seeing the transformation from a mother struggling with post-natal depression to a mother empowered by her own abilities and knowledge is one of the feelings Catherine loves the most. Space gives mothers not only the opportunity to be surrounded by other mothers but other mothers with babies at very similar ages and stages.
“Motherhood is one of the times in your life where you’re at your most vulnerable. Especially during your first year as a mother, you go through a process of having to re-invent yourself, rediscover your tribe and the type of mother you wish to be.” Every mother has to figure out how to give to their child while also giving to themselves. In these moments of vulnerability, it’s amazing how you remember the people who helped guide you through these stages. Space has been a massive part of so many mother’s journeys.
You may be wondering, how does she manage to make it all work. As well as having a super supportive team at Space, the support given to Catherine by her parents ‘has been a blessing’ encouraging her and supporting her in her journey to provide for others and support mothers during their own journey. As a single mum, Catherine also manages to teach violin (she taught me - in fact!) and is a free-lance violinist performing in NZ Barok (based in Auckland). On paper, Catherine’s life sounds extremely busy. However having your job as one of your true passions and a musical career on the side, her work is fulfilling and rewarding. Catherine is living-proof that self-care can run in a multitude of forms, ‘music feeds my soul in a different way.’ Catherine’s self-care also consists of an annual summer holiday to Whangamata with her family. She’s also really aware of when she needs Friends are also extremely important to her, her closet ones are from her church group, and who double as amazing emotional support. In regard to her work, Catherine is really grateful for the support given to her by the Playcentre Association. In their belief in her when she brought Space to the table, and the ongoing support encouraging her to thrive in her work whether that’s financial or getting stuck in!
“I think the most valuable thing is being part of a community. It’s what makes us whole.” When reflecting on the community which surrounds her whether that’s her family, her Space colleagues, her music groups or her church community, Catherine realises that it’s these people who have shaped who she is and also have become the community which her children have grown up in also. “It’s not just me by myself trying to raise two children, it’s a wide wrap-around community which embraces all of us. My ultimate goal is to maintain those communities and that’s what I want for everyone - to feel like they belong, they’re valued and they’re visible.”
It was during Catherine’s most vulnerable moments in which she was inspired to create something amazing. Catherine’s passion, determination, and drive have enabled a wonderful group of mothers to create and sustain an empowering community in which both they and their children benefit from.
Through my conversation with Catherine, what was most apparent was her love for what she does and her genuine passion for making a difference in her community with a mission to support mothers during these crucial stages of their journey.
If you’re a new mother or are expecting I highly recommend searching for your local Space Waikato group as somewhere to meet, share and bond with other mum’s while learning and being encouraged to be that first-carer and educator of their child.
Thank you again to Catherine and her team for their amazing work throughout our community, and I’m sure all the mum’s who have been touched by Space will join me in this.
From our community to yours,
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