Homestart – A Volunteers Story

                                                   Homestart is a national charity with the aim of supporting families and children by training volunteers as befrienders. Befriending can have a huge impact on a family which has hit a difficult patch in their lives for whatever reason, but can also be a very positive and rewarding experience for the volunteer.  East Lothian has a very successful Homestart organisation and the following volunteer story is reproduced from the Homestart annual report with their permission.

 Dad of five and grandad of five, Paddi O’Brien, 54, from Dunbar, used to describe himself as a ‘burly builder’ who owned his own construction business until a heart condition stopped him working.  Twelve years on, his life is unrecognisable from the builder he once was.  Instead, his days are now split between being a ‘houseparent’ for his own family and a volunteer for Home-Start East Lothian.

 After a prolonged period of ill health and undergoing his second heart operation, Paddi, then aged 40, was forced to retire from his construction business and re-evaluate his life.  His three eldest children were nearly all grown up but his youngest, twins, then aged eight years, gave him the opportunity to become a full-time houseparent, taking the lead role in managing the home and bringing up the young kids whilst his wife went out to work as the wage earner.

 It was this change in direction that inspired Paddi to start volunteering to support other families.  He says:  ‘I really enjoyed being a houseparent and taking on the main caring responsibility for the twins.  I’d missed so much of our older kids growing up – I always left early for work when they’d still be in bed and returned late so I missed a lot of their upbringing.’

 But with high school looming on the horizon for the twins, Paddi decided he wanted to do more.  He saw an advert about Home-Start East Lothian and decided to get in touch.

 Paddi’s now been volunteering with Home Start East Lothian for over five years.  He says: ‘Male volunteers are a bit of a rare breed when it comes to family focused charities.   People tend to do a bit of a double take when they hear I’m supporting a family but men actually have a lot to offer, particularly acting as a positive male role model.’

 Since volunteering for Home-Start, Paddi’s supported three different families.  He says that it’s as much about the children as it is the parent.  Paddi explains: ‘Home-Start is very well structured, they employ professional staff who in turn give us volunteers fantastic support. 

 ‘I’m basically parachuted into a family and my role with them evolves from there.  I might give support to a dad who feels like he doesn’t know what he should be doing or I might be supporting the mum and helping look after the kids whilst she takes some time out.  Sometimes it’s a combination of many things. The most important role I play in a family’s life though is being someone they can depend on.’

If you are interested in being a befriender contact Homestart East Lothian on

Tel: 01875 616066

‘These are the things that matter to me…’


A group of parents who use voluntary sector services for families of early years children were supported to make a short film about what made a difference for them and their children. The film was made at Stepping Forward a Sure Start centre in Penicuik.

The idea for the video came from conversations that Susan Deacon had with groups of parents in Mid & East Lothian as part of her evidence gathering for her report to the Education Minister.  A previous post  ‘Conversations with Susan’ described the content and impact of the discussion she had with parents. Parents were supported by the Media Co-op to make the video. Many thanks to Shelley for uploading the video to YouTube (I still haven’t mastered that)

We will use the video as part of Support from the Start  ‘civic conversation’ about health and the early years. Its first public viewing will be to East Lothian councillors.