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Fostering - The magnificent Methvens

The Methvens

The day that Spencer Methven accidentally knocked Barbara Snelling into the road with a ladder that he was carrying was the start of their 53 year love story. Less than a week later, after their very first date, Spence told his sister that Barb was the girl that he would marry “you just know don't you” and 17 year old Barbara and 20 year old Spencer

were wed within 6 weeks. Barbara

says they have “just fitted together

as a pair” ever since.

Originally from St Austell in Cornwall,

they moved to their current home

in Chatham 4 years ago. They have

had 5 children, 14 grandchildren

and 6 great grandchildren. Unable

to imagine a life not surrounded by

children, Spencer (72) and Barbara (69) put aside any thoughts of a quiet retirement and have been fostering with The Hazel Project for just over a year, offering short term, emergency and respite foster care for 34 children so far.

I caught up with them to find out more about their fostering experience…


How did it come about that you began fostering with The Hazel Project?

Barbara; We'd been thinking about it for a while but we were both working full time. We lost our youngest son Daniel very suddenly, which left a huge hole in our family and for the first 2 years after, we just bumbled through life. We didn't really celebrate anything, it was like the shutters had come down. One day we went to see our son Nathan and he said “Mum we're going to be doing fostering, so they might get hold of you for questions”. We came back home and sat and thought about it and talked about it and decided we’ll give it a go. I mean, we have got so much love I think haven't we?

Spencer; Yes and we like kids. We've had kids around us because our grandchildren and great grandchildren have always come and stayed with us. We’ve always had children around us and what we try to do with the children that come to stay on their holiday with us is make sure it's a holiday. So yeah, they do get a bit spoilt!

Barbara; Very spoilt! Our great grandchildren come over and interact and play with them which is incredible. We laugh a lot, especially with the kids that we have. We had a little lad at the weekend and I've never known a child say “wow” or “bloody hell” so many times!

Spencer; It's incredible, we took him to Costco and he couldn't believe it, the size of it. He was just walking around amazed, going “wow”.

Barbara; “bloody hell”. 

And what were you doing before you began fostering?

Spencer; I was in the prison service for 20 plus years and then I got the opportunity to retire when I was 45. We already had grandchildren then and I had this great idea - we’ll take our eldest grandchild to Florida - and then our children kept producing grandchildren so it became an annual tradition that Grandad takes us to Florida, so Grandad had to go back to work to pay for that! I went and did a bit of driving work because I didn't want to be in management anymore and ended up driving a bus. Then I started doing a school run with children with additional needs. Barbara had given up her job and was actually my escort on the bus so we worked together for 4 or 5 years before deciding to “retire” and foster children for a quiet life!

Barbara; I had worked in the garages for quite a few years and I'd worked my way up to area manager of 12 garages. I was often working 12 to 14 hour days and it was getting too much for me so I went into the Heart Foundation shops, sorting them all out. Coming home one night I had a horrendous car accident where a foreign lorry hit me and I couldn't drive up and down the motorway for a couple of years after that. Spencer said to me that they are looking for escorts for the children on the bus and I said oh i'll give it a go and I absolutely loved it.

Spencer; We used to play cds every day and get the children singing. Quite often we'd pull up to the school with 9 children singing their heads off and the teachers would just look at our bus and shake their heads.

Barbara; It was the noisiest bus ever! It got the kids to school in a really good mood and hopefully they came home in a good mood after being on the bus with us.

Spencer; We loved it but we were getting older and we thought right we're going to give it up and then the process for fostering started and that was a lot quicker than we initially thought. We went to panel on the 1st of December 2022 and we had a phone call that same afternoon.

Barbara; We’d only been home about an hour!

Spencer; Saying you've been accepted to foster and please can you have these 8 year old twins. So Barbara had to finish early so that we could have these 2 little twins and then after they left we had another young lad, Ronnie, who had recently come into the care system and he stayed all over Christmas and New Year. We’ve had some children that have been slightly challenging but Barbara has a manner about her that deals with that very well. We find that if you've got an elder lad and the other two are sisters, the elder lad can feel a bit left out so I take them out for boys days. They come out with me to clean the car or we go to B&Q or Pets at Home to get all the dog and cat food and it’s a boys day out. Inevitably when they’re out with me, they get a KFC or whatever and of course they love that.

Has fostering brought difficult times?

Barbara; Only once, I'm trying not to laugh, we went to the goat sanctuary and we were asked to leave. We had 3 siblings at the time and I bought them all a bag of carrots. Now, some of the goats have red collars on and you're not allowed to feed them because theyre on a special diet, some have purple collars because they are pregnant. I was showing one of siblings and she didn't like it, so she started throwing the carrots at the goats and of course all the goats that weren't supposed to eat the carrots were in there eating them so i said to her “no, you mustn't do that, if you don't want to feed them it doesn't matter just watch your little brother do it”. Well, tantrum? I’ve never seen a tantrum like it in my life!

Spencer; Major!

Barbara; Major! So I said to her “right, we've got to go now because you're upsetting the goats with all this noise, either you can calm down and have more fun and we can walk around the field and see all of the rest of the goats or we're going home”. She threw herself on the floor, feet stamping, screaming, so I picked her up and went up over the field with her and I said, “come on, you're getting yourself all upset here”. She said “but I don’t want to go” and I said “well you have got a choice, because of all this noise and everything we all have to go”. So I got her into the car, she kicked the hell out of the inside of the car, kicking the seat, kicking the ceiling, banging on the glass. She got home and when she got out of the car, she said “oh GG (Barbara's nickname), can we go down the park now” as if nothing had happened! I just smiled and thought “well there you go”.

Spencer; I think she had to do it, you know, for whatever reason but it was the only time.

Barbara; Yep, and she was as good as gold after that, she was brilliant.


Spencer; One thing we’ve noticed quite a lot with those who are new into care is that often they’ve only ever had takeaways. Here, at dinnertime, we turn the tv off and we sit at the table and they don’t know what to use, how to eat with a knife and fork, because they've only ever eaten with their fingers. A lot of them have this idea that they'll only eat Mcdonalds fries, they don’t eat any other sort of potatoes and they don’t eat vegetables. What I do is make up silly names for meals. I took 2 to school recently and I said right, we’ve got volcanoes for tea tonight, they were all “oh what's volcanoes?”. It’s baked beans and mash and sausages but I pile the mash up and stick the sausages in the side and I pour the beans over the top like a volcano. They loved it. They don’t like mashed potatoes and they don’t like sausages, but they’ll eat volcanos!

Barbara; And bungalow pie.

Spencer; I do bungalow pie instead of cottage pie and I bung a load of different stuff in it.

Barbara; different vegetables.

Spencer – Because children don’t like them but we put it in there...they love it cos its bungalow pie! At the end of the week or however long we help them, they are asking for these meals again and all of a sudden theyre eating vegetables.

Barbara; We take them to the supermarket to pick the vegetables out. We were there one day and there were aubergines and they said “what do these taste like, can I try them”? So I said I'll tell you what, we’ll make vegetable lasagna, we picked some courgettes and other vegetables. They absolutely loved it and wanted it again.

Spencer; It's really good to see them sitting there with a knife and fork, tucking in and eating. Then we get phone calls from their foster parents saying what the hell is bungalow pie because they've asked for it!


What qualities do you think are important for a foster parent to have?

Barbara; You've got to listen, listen to the children and have patience.

Spencer; Yes, let them talk, when they feel like it and I think let them be a child because some of them, because of what's happened, they've been forced to take on adult traits far too early. I think if you can get that out and let them be a child and just play and giggle, there's nothing better than seeing young kids come to us that are initially quite resistant to us, in their own little shell and all of a sudden you can break that down and start to see them giggle. In the summer we can take them down to our sons and I get all the youngsters to feed the chickens out of the palm of their hands. When you see this little 4 or 5 year old with the worm feed in their hand and the chickens pecking away - the look on their faces, they've never done it before! And they go and get the eggs out of the run and they're amazed, they say “what are they doing in here, they come from a box in a shop”. It's silly things that make them laugh.

Barbara; I’ve got a laundry basket at the stop of the stairs and I get all the laundry out and I throw it down the stairs. We had a 4 year old and he thought this was amazing. He went down to the bottom of the stairs and brought it all back up and started throwing it all down again. He was really giggling. Well, after about 10 times I said to him “come on we've got to put this in the washing machine now” but patience is a big thing.

Spencer; Let them create memories. Let them take away a happy memory. If they leave us and they are happy and they're giving Barbs hugs and they're saying "can we come back and stay again” then we must have done something right while they've been with us. We had a young lady come to us in an emergency. She came straight from school. She was 15 and she was brought in a taxi from school. She hid behind the tree outside and wouldnt come in because she was that nervous. Barbara went out and started calming her down. She got her in and we got her up to show her her bedroom, where she was going to be sleeping and then sat her down here and I said right we’ll bring the dogs in because she was nervous of dogs and Millie (Scottish terrier) was soon up, laying beside her and rolled over because she likes her belly being tickled and Buddy (Cockapoo)

came in and sat up beside

her and wanted a cuddle

and over the next 5 or so

minutes you could just

see the tension drain out

of her. She was with us

for 3 and a half, maybe

4 weeks and she has

been back several times

on respite with us. She

goes to school locally and on a Friday they finish early and quite often we’ll be sat here and all of a sudden the door will burst open, she’ll come in “I’m home” and throw her arms around Barbs for a cuddle and say “what have you got in the fridge to eat”. We’ll tell her to help herself to something and it's nice that she's now got that confidence and that feeling of safety that she can come here.

Barbara; She came on Friday last week and said “what have you got for tea”? I said “it's cottage pie”, she said ooh “can I have some”. 

Spencer; She pops in and it's nice to see that she has that confidence now and she’s really happy and settled where she is and she's getting on well with her schooling and it's just nice to see the difference that it’s made to her. It’s become a way of life for us. I know it might sound mad to some people but a couple of weeks ago, we had a space between children leaving and the next ones coming and we both looked at each other and said “god isn’t it quiet, there's no kids”.

Barbara; They love cooking with me in the kitchen. They sit and watch the cookies cook in the oven and they want them as soon as they come out. I have to say “no, they're too hot, you’ll have to wait”. With the little ones it's like a bomb has hit my kitchen. Little Alan put the bowl right over his head and was licking it from the inside out!

Tell me about the baubles on your Christmas tree. 

Barbara; It started with one which Ronnie wanted to get one to put on our tree, then I had the next three children come and stay and they saw the bauble as it was sat up on the mantelpiece and they asked me what it was for and I said “well when Ronnie was here he chose that one to go on my Christmas tree” and they said “can we”? Here's a little angel from one and a rocking horse, so they choose what they want to go on my tree. When I take them off they've all got their initials. We got another two girls on Friday and I'll take them out to choose. 


Spencer; The idea is that it makes them feel part of our family and it makes them also aware that they are remembered, they're not just here for the weekend, we’ve got something that we're gonna remember them. They know that and I think they take that thought with them.

Barbara; The baubles aren't all year round so we also go to the garden centres and they all choose one of these things and they put them in the pots in the garden. They absolutely love these things. They’re only a quid but it gives them so much fun, they can't wait to get home to put them in the garden.

Spencer; When they come

back to us in the fine

weather they come in

the door, push Buddy

(the dog) out the way,

kick their shoes off and

run straight through to

the garden to see if it's

still there. It's just nice

because it gives them a

sense of being wanted, of being part of us you know and it shows them that we don’t forget them. It's not a case of them coming for a weekend and then they’re gone, that's it,  bye. Doing this fostering it’s not like that, they all pull at your heartstrings, they all take a little bit of your soul with them and they've all been through different terrible things in their lives and it's just nice to see them being kids and playing as kids you know.

Thank you to the magnificent Methvens for sparing their time to tell us about the incredible work that they do, how fostering has made them live again and the difference that they are making to so many young people's lives.

Merry Christmas 🎅💗☃️

If the Methvens story has inspired you to find out more, click on the button below to request a copy of our "Introduction to Fostering" brochure.

Photo frame with a photo of a family
picture of a dog
Christmas Tree with lights on
The Methvens
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