When Stephen Radnor’s marriage ended a year ago, he wanted to remain involved in the community.
Mr Radnor, who is in his early 50s, was concerned about feeling isolated. “It was important to meet people who had had similar experiences.” Then he found Singular Challenge, Jewish Care’s weekly Golders Green-based group, which supports those who are divorced or separated.
Running for more than 20 years, it offers a safe and confidential space for people to discuss their experiences — and to feel they are not alone. They hear expert speakers and receive information and advice on legal and financial matters and emotional and family issues (children’s reaction to a divorce; hostile relations with a former partner).
Singular Challenge additionally offers the opportunity to make friends and although not a primary aim of the group, it has led to new relationships.
Meetings are held on Monday evenings at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Community Centre. They attract around two dozen regulars — and more if there is a speaker or group counselling session.
Mr Radnor has found it “a really friendly group. It’s so helpful to speak to other people about problem areas and how to respond to the way children can react to the situation.
“The other huge benefit has been finding a new social life. Suddenly there’s a whole load of new friends.
“When you split up, you feel awkward going to a dinner party on your own, no matter how welcoming your friends. This has made a real difference to me.”
The group’s volunteer co-ordinators are Mandy Cooper and Anna Decent, who have both been through divorce and attended Singular Challenge as members.
“I joined Singular Challenge when newly in a turbulent separation,” Ms Cooper recalled. “The most important thing was that it offered me a safe place to go every week and talk at a very difficult time. People were warm and welcoming and the sessions were fascinating, fun, educational and supportive. I have met lovely people and made wonderful, lifelong friends.
“I took over running the group with Anna because I strongly believe it has an important purpose.”
The confidentiality aspect was crucial as it allowed people to speak freely.
Ms Decent recalled that “after a very messy and emotional divorce, I felt I needed to meet new people. My married friends were great but they couldn’t understand how different my life was.
“Joining Singular Challenge changed everything. I made a whole new network of friends as well as receiving the most amazing support. It inspired me to study as a life coach so that I could help others.”
A Singular Challenge member for four years, Frankie Strubel is “very positive about the group.
“I was married for 23 years and travelled the world. I was a dancer and choreographer. My husband and I had a dance school in Milan. We stayed married but separated for years and it took a long time to finally make the decision to divorce. My husband wasn’t Jewish but I had come from a traditional Jewish background.
“After living a long time out of the country, I didn’t know anyone except my family. There wasn’t a ready-made social life that I could easily join.
“I had a lot of guilt about the divorce as I felt responsible and I felt my kids resented me for that. Someone who is going through a divorce really needs support and advice.”
Through Singular Challenge, she had made “friends for life. Some of the people I met at the group would also get together for coffee and celebrations and from that my social life grew.
“I would like more people to know about the group as I’ve benefited so much from it. It’s not about dating, it’s about support at a really difficult time.”
Michelle Reshef, manager of the Sobell centre, said: “Supporting one another is what community is all about. It’s so important there is a place where people can feel included and identify with others from a similar background and life stage to help rebuild their self-esteem and confidence.”
Jewish Care hopes to launch a fortnightly Singular Challenge group for those in Essex and East London next spring, meeting at the charity’s Redbridge Community Centre.
For more information about Singular Challenge, call 020 8922 2412 or email firstname.lastname@example.org