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'Netmums' founders awarded New Year's OBEs

By Judith Burns
Education and family reporter, BBC News

image captionSarah Russell, Cathy Court and Siobhan Freegard founded Netmums after meeting at a toddler group in 2000

The three founders of the parental support website, Netmums have received OBEs in the New Year Honours list

Sarah Russell, Siobhan Freegard and Cathy Court set up the site as mothers of young children in 2000.

It now has 1.6m members and offers grassroots parenting advice and expert support as well as campaigning on a wide range of issues.

"It really doesn't feel like an individual award. It's as if Netmums has got an OBE," said Ms Freegard.

"It's a real surprise - nothing you ever expect to happen to you."


The three met when their eldest sons were at the same toddler group in Harrow, north west London, and decided to set up a website to help other young mothers in the area.

None had much computing expertise: "I didn't even have an email address and had to borrow my husband's laptop and find out how to buy a domain name," said Ms Freegard.

"We've loved every minute of it. It's been an absolute blast, a rollercoaster ride and we've met some amazing people."

Ms Freegard said greater mobility meant increasing numbers of young parents now live a considerable distance away from their extended families, which can leave some feeling lonely and unsupported.

Netmums was set up to help fill the gap, primarily offering peer-to-peer support to young parents.

"When you first have a baby it's pretty dramatic. You are unprepared, unskilled but somehow expected to cope," said Ms Freegard.

"Netmums was a social network where members could advise and support each other, long before Facebook and other social networks."

With a staff of 60, Netmums now has experts on call to advise and intervene where parents need more help, as well as links to local health services and organisations such as Relate and Women's Aid.

Sarah Russell, who now lives in Watford, said she was "humbled" to receive the award.

"It's extremely exciting and of course it's a huge personal honour.

'Support ethos'

In 2000 Ms Russell had been suffering from post-natal depression and was herself in need of support.

She said the key to Netmums' success is its dual emphasis on grassroots cooperation and professional support.

"What mums most need, particularly when they've got young children is local information in terms of local groups and nurseries," said Ms Russell.

"We offer healthcare and other professional support to parents, such as on domestic violence or financial advice.

"We've also done lots of research into post-natal depression and our forums are moderated to stop bullying.

"That support ethos is what sets us apart."

Cathy Court, from Tring in Hertfordshire, added that even though the site had become more commercial, helping parents remained the priority.

"Netmums was created to support all parents so they can get the most out of family life, from helping those with severe needs to simply introducing local parents or giving mums ideas for crafts to keep kids busy on a rainy day."

Some 10% of the New Year's Honours are for work in education, with 29 headteachers recognised and six made knights or dames. Asha Khemka, Principal and Chief Executive of West Nottinghamshire College also made a dame for her work in further education.

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