Mum leaves legacy to families in crisis
WHEN single parent Barbara Fox helped set up a centre for families facing homelessness, little did she know the project would go on to support thousands of people in need.
And 35 years on, the Gingerbread Centre is still going strong with its dedicated team of staff working with lone-parent families from across Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle, Stafford and the Moorlands.
"The key to the support is earning their trust and building their self-esteem," said Barbara. "It's a very low point in their lives.
"You've got to give it time and every little achievement builds up to something more."
Now friends and colleagues have been celebrating 65-year-old Barbara's own achievements after she decided to retire as chief executive. They threw a retirement party for her at Meir Education Centre last night.
Barbara first became involved with Gingerbread when her daughter was young and she was coming to terms with life as a single parent.
She joined one of the charity's social groups and soon found herself part of a band of volunteers.
"We were three lone parents, who all had young children, and we set up a little advice centre in Hanley. We found many of the people coming to it were homeless."
They went on to create supported accommodation, starting off with room for three families.
"We had no funding for the first two years, so we ran the centre as volunteers," recalled Barbara. "We begged and borrowed to get paint and wallpaper. It was a struggle, but it was also fun."
The Gingerbread Centre later moved to Cobridge and relocated to its current home at Rothesay Court, Longton, in 2004. There are 21 self-contained flats there and demand is so high there is a waiting list.
Gingerbread also runs a base for teenage parents, called Catherine Court, in Hanley.
And at least 150 other families at risk of becoming homeless are offered help through outreach work each year.
Barbara, from Clayton, said: "Homelessness is only one of the underlying problems. Lone parents may also be facing domestic violence issues, substance misuse, mental ill health and debt.
"Some families arrive at crisis point. We provide everything – all they need are their personal possessions.
"We can help them sort out benefits, improve their basic skills, and look for employment. We help them to look for properties and also provide help when they do find a new home.
"It's wonderful to see people move on with their lives. It makes it all worthwhile."
Wendy Lubacz, who manages the project for teenage parents, described Barbara as a 'huge inspiration'.
She said: "She's dynamic, very compassionate and a great lady who will be missed."
Mervyn Ryan, chairman of the trustees at the Gingerbread Centre, also paid tribute to her.
He said: "She's served us long and hard and deserves her retirement."
Andy Bush has replaced Barbara as the new chief executive.