In the year 2000, a Christian named Taryn Freeland was brushing her teeth at a summer festival in Somerset when she felt that God may be calling her to open a pregnancy crisis centre in Watford. In her own words:
So, Taryn prayed and asked her church (Soul Survivor Watford – a local Anglican church) for support. The church duly supported her request and Taryn’s passion for the endeavour began to attract great interest from further afield, including support from B&Q and Sir Richard Branson! The result was the launch of the Connections & GirlAbout drop-in centre on St Albans Road, which was created for the befriending, counselling and support of teenage girls and young women in pregnancy crisis.
This new centre was an immediate success. In the first year of full operation dozens of young mums were supported through the challenges of unplanned pregnancy. Taryn managed the centre until it was fully up-and-running and then passed the reins to Kathe Clark.
With an awareness that 15-year-olds have very different needs to adults, Kathe had a vision to create a 'Tots' group for teenage parents. This group became vibrant and popular and Kathe cared for these mums (and, in some cases, dads as well), coaching them to become the confident parents that they are today. The groups continued until local Children’s Centres began to offer similar support.
In 2005, the work of the charity expanded into secondary schools, with aim of reducing the number of teenage pregnancies by empowering and encouraging young women to make positive and informed decisions. In the months and years ahead, schools work developed at Westfield CTC, Francis Combe, Bushey Hall, Parmiters, Queens, Royal Masonic, St. Joan of Arc and Bushey Meads Schools. This work took the form of workshops, lunchtime clubs and PHSCE days and continued for 11 years, until 2016. Many of the young girls supported during this period have since credited the GirlAbout team with providing life-changing support for them through very difficult circumstances.
During the years that GirlAbout worked in schools, teenage pregnancy reduced dramatically. There were many reasons for this and GirlAbout’s presence in schools was most timely, as sex education was high on the Government’s agenda at the time. Across the UK, a combination of better sex education and the promotion and availability of contraception meant that teenage pregnancies fell to the lowest levels since the 1960s.
Consequently, the demand for pregnancy-related schools’ work decreased and, in 2016, the decision was made to end our programme for schools. This enabled us to focus our resources upon the charity’s growth area of perinatal mental health – including miscarriage, post-natal depression and ante-natal counselling.
Since Alternatives began there have been significant social changes regarding pregnancy-related needs and challenges in the UK. While fewer teenagers need pregnancy-related support, a growing number of adults are seeking support. One of many reasons for this change is because the average age of motherhood is increasing – it has risen consistently over the past four decades. As a result, different pregnancy-related challenges and support needs have emerged and Alternatives has continued to adapt accordingly.
Over the years, Alternatives has been led and managed by five inspiring women. We are extremely grateful to Taryn and Kathe (mentioned above), as well as Sarah Francis, Vanessa Kerswill and Angela Such – our present Manager.
In 2017 Alternatives celebrated its 15th birthday. We celebrated with gratitude, firstly to God, and for the many staff, volunteers and beneficiaries who have been with us on this exciting and life-changing journey. We look to the future with great anticipation to offer “life-changing emotional and practical support for anyone facing pregnancy-related challenges”.
2000 – Planning begins for a pregnancy crisis centre in Watford.
2001 – Volunteer counsellors are recruited and trained to deliver pregnancy crisis and post-abortion support to teenage girls in Watford.
2002 – The ‘Connections & GirlAbout’ charity and drop-in centre is officially launched in April, at 185a St Albans Road, Watford.
2005 – Schools work begins and continues for nine years in local schools, including Westfield CTC, Francis Combe, Bushey Hall, Parmiters, Queens, Royal Masonic, St. Joan of Arc and Bushey Meads.
2009 – Moved from St Albans Road to a Watford town centre location (behind our current shop).
2012 – 10th Anniversary Ball at Soul Survivor.
2012 – ‘GirlAbout’ is re-named ‘Alternatives’, in response to the growing number of women that the charity is supporting.
2013 – Moved to Clarendon Road and launched our first ‘mother and baby’ charity shop, to support new mums practical ways and to raise money to support the work of our counsellors.
2016 – Schools work ends in response to social changes over previous 11 years. Mission updated to read “We offer life-changing emotional and practical support for anyone facing pregnancy-related challenges”. Partnership working with NHS begins.
2017 – Alternatives shortlisted for Watford BID Awards, our Baby Box project launches and we celebrate our 15th anniversary.