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Our story

Catherine Langford – Founder Families in Grief

Catherine Langford founded Families in Grief in 2000.

Here’s the story of how we became the charity you see today:

Catherine Langford was working in supportive care at the Children’s Hospice, Little Bridge House in North Devon in the 90’s. Whilst there, she supported families who had experienced the death of their child. She saw that many needed further support months sometimes years after the bereavement. Catherine noticed a gap in this provision and so decided to set up a service to provide bereavement support to children, young people and their families six months or more after they had experienced the death of someone close to them.

She gathered a group of professionals together including her colleague and friend Sue Williamson (Co-Founder of FiG). Together they devised a support group based on Winston’s Wish model. The group was independently evaluated and the families taking part said they felt better and less alone following the support.

A local competition was held to create the Families in Grief logo and in September 2006, Families in Grief or ‘FiG’ as we are known locally was officially registered as a charity.

For the following five years, FiG was led by a small dedicated group of volunteers who organised and delivered one or two support groups annually for bereaved families. The children (mostly primary school aged) took part in creative activities to help them to understand their grief. Their parents had their own support group in a room nearby.   

As the demand for the service increased the volunteers found it hard to commit to the time needed to coordinate and organise the families that were coming to FiG for support. In 2012 the trustees successfully received a grant from BBC Children in Need for a part-time member of staff and Emma Marston became FiG’s first employee.

Catherine recognised that the charity needed to encourage young people to its service and so in 2013, Emma set up and devised a support group for bereaved teens and their parents. Teens in Grief was born. The group sessions included activities recommended by bereaved teens including climbing and surfing. FiG now supported both primary school aged children and teenagers.

Over the following five years the service evolved fast adapting to the needs of the families coming for help, by offering different types of support depending on the family and offering support straight after the family had experienced the death. FiG now offered more phone support to parents, more support to families at home or to a child or teacher at school, more comprehensive resources and was running more support group programmes than ever before. Demand for the service continued to increase putting pressure on FiG’s now two part-time members of staff and 20 volunteers.

During the Covid-19 pandemic FiG adapted its service by offering support to families via video calls we also sent out activity packs to bereaved children and young people as an alternative to our group sessions. The creative activities helped them to think of healthy ways to manage ‘big feelings’ as well as giving them ideas about how they could look after themselves. We also increased awareness of our service to the ‘online community’ by regularly posting on social media to ensure families knew where to turn should they experience a bereavement.

In September 2020 we started to run ‘real life’ support group sessions with bereaved children, young people and their families. We were one of the only services that offered ‘real life’ support during lockdown 2 and 3. The positive impact on families taking part was phenomenal, with many telling us they felt better after our sessions, they enjoyed the ‘face to face’ contact, and felt less socially isolated and alone in their grief as a result. Our volunteers also said how positive an experience it had been helping families in our group sessions at a time when the country was being told to ‘Stay at Home’.

In response to the pandemic we looked at developing the resources and information available to families online to help them 24/7 and so in July 2021 we created this website and over time we’ll build up a library of resources for bereaved children young people and their families to download and access whenever they like.

FiG now has five part-time members of staff, 30 volunteers and a determination and passion to continue to help and support bereaved children, young people and their families to feel better and less alone in their grief.

Our story continues…