Thetford Christian Family Project grows in 2013

FulmerstoneFamilyandCommunityP2013: With Zumba classes, homework support, childcare and much more, the church-based Fulmerston Family and Community Project in Thetford is looking forward to building on their success and meeting community needs in new ways in 2013.

The Fulmerston Family and Community Project has provided affordable family based activities for the Barnham Cross Estate in Thetford for almost seven years.  Despite financial challenges the project team is looking forward to building on the success of the project and implementing exciting new initiatives this year to meet the needs of local families.

The Barnham Cross Estate in Thetford is in the top quartile of deprived areas nationally.  The area suffers from high levels of unemployment and many of the families are larger than average, living without the support of extended family living close by.   The Fulmerston Family and Community Project exists to serve the needs of those living on the estate. 

The charity is excited about soon starting an after-school drop-in on Monday afternoons for parents to sit and do homework with their children.   With free internet access, laptops, tea, toast and a crèche provided for younger children it will enable mums to spend time with their children one on one discussing school work.  The project has the scope to extend beyond one evening and to build stronger links with the local school.   They will also be running IT courses and tutor groups. 

The idea for the Family and Community Project evolved out of a playgroup that had previously been running at the Fulmerston Christian Fellowship, a Baptist Church, where the project is based.  

Barbara Bysouth, Family Project Manager explains: “It was obvious that the parents had a lot of needs and really needed someone full time to get alongside them and try to enable them to find their own solutions or to help them access solutions through other agencies. And that really was the start of the vision for the project”.

The project is an independent charity but closely related to the small Baptist Church, which has a small congregation of around 12 regulars. 

Barbara says: “It’s a tiny church with a huge project that has just grown and grown.  The thing is, we are in an ideal position on the estate.  As a church we had always said for years and years that we feel we are there to serve the estate. But how do we serve?  We needed to provide something that would get the community’s attention, something that they needed.”

Barbara Bysouth has been the Family Project Manager since the project’s beginning.  She has lived on the estate and been part of the church since she was 11.  Her background working in a local school and also as a Quality Control Manager was perfect training, she believes, for doing the job. 

Barbara talks passionately about the need for the project to be user-led and their investment in the team of local volunteers, many of whom came to the project initially as mums accessing the provision. 

One example of where the charity has been user-led is their new Zumba sessions.  Barbara explains: “The mums said that they really wanted to do something like Zumba but couldn’t afford £5 a session.  Through the Health Trainer service we managed to secure NHS funding and we sent one of our volunteers on a Zumba training course.  She is now a qualified trainer.  They have also paid for six months’ worth of costs, paying the trainer to run the class and for the rent of the building. Hence we can offer our own Zumba sessions for £1.” 

Other services provided by the project include a pre-nursery group on Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday and Thursday mornings and Friday afternoons where parents can leave children aged 2 and 3 for just £3.50 per session.  

FulmerstoneFamilyandCommunityPThe charity also runs a parent and toddler group on Monday and Friday mornings, and a community coffee morning on Tuesday mornings which various professionals use as a forum to meet local people, including a local housing association manager, the police and the Thetford Health Trainers, who work individually with parents to help them stop smoking or lose weight. This has provided a great opportunity for Church volunteers and project volunteers to work as a team to also get to know some of the families.

An important part of the Fulmerston Family Project mission is to run affordable special activities and trips during the summer holidays.  Barbara Bysouth said: “A lot of people during the summer holidays don’t have the money to go outside the town, they haven’t got the money for transport so we provide heavily subsidised trips for the whole family.”  Last year trips included Lowestoft by train (a group of 67 complete with prams and buggies), the Theatre Royal and the Teddy Bear’s Picnic at High Lodge.

As is often the case in today’s economic climate, finance is the greatest challenge to the charity.  Barbara says: “For the past two years really we have been on a rollercoaster ride.  I’ve had my redundancy notice twice and then it was revoked.  We’ve never really had more than a month’s funding in the pot.  Sometimes that is quite difficult and sometimes I just think ‘Well if God wants it to happen, it will happen’.  And sure enough the cheques usually arrive just in time.”

Despite the difficulties Barbara enthuses: “I just love it.  I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else”.

Talking about how faith shapes the work of the Fulmerston Family Project Barbara says: “Making God real for people in this day and age is a challenge.  We need to meet people where they are rather than dragging people to where we are.  I think sometimes stepping into a church service is just too big a step.  Through basing the project in a church and by building relationships with our users, there is an easy progression in inviting families to friendly services such as Messy Church.” 

If you would like to find out more about the work of the Fulmerston Family and Community Project please contact Barbara Bysouth, Family Project Manager on 01842 763 241 or by email at

Fulmerston Family and Community Project, Fulmerston Road, Thetford, IP24 3BG

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