A CENTRE supporting young children and their families in the community is one of the services that will benefit from the Herald Aberlour Christmas Appeal.
The centre, in the Langlees area of Falkirk, provides services including childcare, education and parenting support work. Many of the parents have experienced problems bonding with their children due to drug or alcohol dependency, mental health and self-esteem issues.
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Heather Thomson is one of those who have benefited from the centre. She has a full-time job but is struggling to pay the bills and support her three children. She has £60 a week to buy food for the whole family and hasn't bought clothes for the children for years. "It's a struggle," she says. "And it's hard to ask for help."
However, Mrs Thomson has found some help from Aberlour. Her children – Benjamin, two, Sebastian, five and Eleanor, seven – regularly attend the Langlees centre, which gives Mrs Thomson, 40, and her husband Ken, 49, some respite.
Time off is not something they get often. Mrs Thomson gets up at 6am every workday to commute to her job as an administrator at Edinburgh University while her husband, who has been unemployed for seven years, looks after the children.
But even with one wage coming in, they cannot afford a comfortable life, largely because prices have gone up so much over the last two years. They receive child benefit, but the working tax credit they received when Heather was on maternity leave has stopped.
"We find it difficult financially," says Mrs Thomson. "My mother has helped us out on a couple of occasions when things have got to that point. It's hard to ask for help – I've been an independent woman since I was 18."
The family also now face the prospect of Christmas, which will be an even greater struggle. Mrs Thomson has saved up supermarket vouchers that will pay for the food, but gift-buying is difficult. "For presents, I'm looking around to see what's on sale," she says. "We also have an agreement with friends that if we give presents, we make something."
Mrs Thomson says she is not alone in this situation – many of her friends are in similar circumstances: working but struggling families who earn too much to get help but not enough to live a good-quality life. "Families in our position are forgotten – because one of you is working, the other one can't claim anything," she says.
Over the next 12 months, Mrs Thomson says she wants to focus on trying to improve their situation. Mr Thomson hopes to start training as a teacher and they both hope they will be able to start saving some money.
"There's a lot of firefighting at the moment," says Heather, "but we're hoping we can get on a better financial plane."
And there is always the family centre, which Mrs Thomson says has been a huge support. It helps both her and her husband to cope, she says, and amid the struggle for money it provides one other important service: "It makes the house a happier house."