Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) was established in 1990 under the Third European Poverty Programme by a multi-racial group of single parents in Bristol, the great majority volunteers, working to make a better life for one parent families.
The EU programme supported SPAN to develop a network across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that would link single parents, self-help groups and organisations working to combat poverty and social exclusion.
"We are against discrimination. Against racism and sexism. Proud of our families. Proud to be parents. Welcome to a network which aims to defend each others rights and the rights of our children to a positive, loving and fruitful future."
Self-help was never about living on the breadline. We stated then as we do today to be working for high quality widespread childcare, improved housing, training and educational opportunities, secure employment, good wages and working conditions.
We took our aims into national and European arenas, linking with single parents living in difficult conditions across Europe, bringing internationalism to a grass-roots level. We stated that oppressed groups could unite with each other rather than against each other, and work to support each other in struggle. We recognized and stated at the time that we were enriched by our diversity – different ethnicities and cultures, mothers and fathers, parents with young babies, parents with teenagers, lesbian mothers, differently abled parents and children. Some of us were divorced, some widowed, some had never lived with a partner. We believed that all of us were united by our single parenthood. We wanted our differences to be recognized, respected and fought for.
The 1990s were a very difficult era for single parents in the UK. In spite of the odds stacked against us we went on to develop:
- A network of groups and individuals across the UK including inner city and rural areas, towns and peripheral estates, and by the beginning of the century, an interactive website connecting more isolated mums and dads that has now developed into www.singleparents.org.uk with over 100,000 unique users per annum
- Funding for over 300 self-organising groups through a small grants programme supporting start-ups, drop-in centres, self-assertiveness and IT training, committee skills and parental support.
- The life-changing SPAN Study Centre set up in 1998 as a model action project in Bristol for parents to improve their self-confidence, education, health and well-being.
- Partnership work with the Race Equality Foundation delivering the ground-breaking Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities (SFSC) parenting programme to more than 3000 parents living in disadvantaged, isolated situations.
- Policy work in partnership with leading agencies addressing poverty and discrimination including the Women's Budget Group, UK Coalition Against Poverty, and the European Anti-Poverty Network.
- The Lone Parent Benefit campaign which SPAN helped to lead that became a turning point in the way in which government shifted support to one parent families at the turn of the century.
- Management of 10 successful European programmes including support for women in further education and training, anti-racist training, anti-poverty strategies and researching children's experience of poverty.