Laura McFarlane, Project Director


Laura is extremely proud to be leading such an exciting and innovative programme that will make a difference to the lives of children. She hopes that all families in the LEAP area have an opportunity to become involved in and shape the direction of the programme. Laura is particularly pleased to work alongside such a committed team who are working in the local community to ensure genuine participation and involvement in LEAP. Prior to joining LEAP, Laura led the Multi-Agency Team in Lambeth Council, providing family support services for those below the social care threshold. In addition to strategic responsibility for early intervention services for children 0-11, Laura also had responsibility for coordination of evidence-based parenting programmes, family learning, and Parent Partnership Services for parents and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Laura has worked in Lambeth for the majority of her 30 years in children’s services, she is a qualified social worker and, among many other achievements, has been responsible for transforming local programmes to a borough-wide children’s centre delivery model.



David Wood, Programme manager

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David has been part of the LEAP team since its inception, including the programme's various funding rounds and launch in April 2015. He oversees the planning and performance of the LEAP programme, reporting to funders and the various governance groups that provide accountability for the programme. 

Before LEAP, David primarily worked on the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes for Children and Young People's Services programme from 2008 to date, providing programme and financial support, working within a consortium of partners, and providing the best evidence of 'what works' through a variety of media to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families. David still works on aspects of this as well as other areas of work with the Director of Programmes at the National Children's Bureau (NCB).

Prior to joining NCB, David worked on a New Deal for Communities programme in Clapham Park for six years which has given him a broad understanding of the challenges for local people in Lambeth, especially the most vulnerable.


Viviana Finistrella, Project Co-production Lead

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Viviana has worked for many years with families in the UK and in Italy. She has previously worked at the Mental Health Foundation as Early Years Programme Manager, developing a new programme for parents from pregnancy onwards focused on promoting parent-infant attunement and attachment. Viviana's background is in clinical developmental psychology with a specialization in infant mental health, and has been involved in home visiting programmes with families for more than 10 years.

In Rome, Italy, she has been Senior Consultant for the Parent and Child programme of the Universita' Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, where she worked with families with children of different ages, using a strengths based and systemic approach. Viviana has conducted research studies, in collaboration with the Bambino Gesu' Children's Hospital and Research Institute, focusing on feeding disorders, childhood obesity and the genesis of maladaptive food choices. She is a member of the AVIG (Video Interaction Guidance association) and the AIMH UK (Association for Infant Mental Health). She is passionate about working together with parents, families and communities and is thrilled to be part of the LEAP Team.



Louise Harrington, Evaluation Manager

Some descriptionLouise has spent many years working with children, families and communities in a research, evaluation and service delivery capacity. For more than three years she worked for the National Evaluation of Sure Start as an expert advisor on evaluation to Sure Start Local Programme partnerships in London and the South-East. In more recent years, she was Co-Director, a research and evaluation consultancy focused on supporting organisations to more effectively demonstrate the difference that they make to the lives of children and families.

Possessing an MSc in Applied Health Research, and a keen interest in supporting work to address the social and environmental determinants of health and well-being, Louise is very excited to be working on such an innovative and transformative programme as LEAP.    


Sam Richards, Programme Development Officer

Some descriptionSam has worked in the Public Sector for many years, with experience in working with multi agencies including health, councils and the voluntary sector, managing and establishing external relations with partners.

Sam has qualifications, and a keen interest, in communications, marketing and social media and will be working closely with communication colleagues to strengthen the LEAP brand and strategic communications plan. In her last post, working with Public Health Dorset, Sam organised successful commissioning engagement events and supported work on national and local campaigns.

Sam brings her skills of event organisation, project coordination and office management to the team and is excited to be a part of LEAP to make a difference to the local area.  


Maria Schmidt, LEAP Workforce and Learning Manager

Some descriptionMaria joined the LEAP team in October 2016 after working as a Public Health Officer for Haringey Council, North London. Maria leads on the implementation and delivery of the LEAP workforce transformation strategy, coordinating all workforce development activities to re-shape the wider workforce working with children and families in the LEAP area.

Maria has extensive knowledge of organisational change management and workforce transformation from overseeing the implementation of the Healthy Child Programme for 0-5 year olds in Haringey.

Maria also has a background in health research, evaluating health promotion strategies aimed at improving children’s health and holds a Master’s in Public Health. Maria is very passionate about improving the way services for children and families work together and aims to ensure all children reach their full potential in life.


Sheena Carr, Public Health Specialist

Some descriptionSheena is an experienced public health professional. She joined the LEAP team in April 2016 after working for over 20 years in Haringey as a Senior Public Health Strategist and commissioner of 0-19 services including health visiting and school nursing.

Sheena has extensive knowledge of the evidence base around early years and hopes to bring her enthusiasm and passion to LEAP to help improve the lives of local children and their families.




Selina Mensah, Monitoring Officer

Some descriptionSelina has worked for over 10 years in the early years sector and as part of regeneration programmes for communities involving children, families and partner organisations - both statutory and voluntary.

Prior to joining LEAP, she was an information management officer and dealt with the design and development of monitoring and evaluation systems for Lambeth children’s centres and commissioned early years providers. 

Selina is delighted to join the LEAP team and be part of such an interesting and innovative programme that will have a positive impact on the lives of children, families and communities.



Gareth Williams, Communications Stakeholder and Engagement Officer

Gareth has over ten years experience working in media and communications in a variety of different roles. 

As well as working for a number of different charities and non-profit organisations, Gareth has worked in television production and as a sports writer. 

Joining LEAP in November 2016, Gareth leads on running LEAP's various communication channels. 



Lauren Barnes, Parent Champions Manager

The Parent Champions programme supports families from pregnancy until their child is four. Lauren supports Parent Champions to talk to family, friends and contacts about services that are good for families. They are supported to carry out a range of activities within the community from running events around LEAP themes; working with health professionals like midwives, health visitors and the FNP to getting involved in developing LEAP services and promoting, children centre services

Lauren is new to LEAP but no less excited at working in a field of complete innovation.  Lauren has worked with volunteers to support children, young people and adults.  Working with volunteers who worked tirelessly to support people with mental issues, young people experiencing homelessness and families with children with autism, was an honour. Lauren believes passionately in the value of volunteering and its ability to change the lives of children, families and the communities in which they live.


Catherine Walsh, Parent Champions Coordinator

Some descriptionCatherine Walsh joined LEAP as the new Parent Champions Coordinator in September 2016 and is excited to be working with parent champions in Lambeth.

Before joining LEAP Catherine worked as a teacher and outreach worker at Morley College where she also trained parent champions and taught making and selling crafts. Catherine has taught art, craft and English courses at children’s centres and other community venues in Lambeth over the last eight years. She has an MA in Education.

Catherine will deliver training and coordinate volunteering activities for parent champions in the local community to support LEAPs aims of giving children in Lambeth a better start.


Josie Ritson, Project Assistant

Some descriptionJosie joined the LEAP team in June 2016 and her role at LEAP is to support the core team with key strands such as programme governance, co-production, workforce and the REAL programme. This involves organising partnership board and senior leader meetings, liaising with and supporting parent representatives, event planning, coordinating training workshops and keeping communities and networks engaged via newsletters and the LEAP website.

Prior to joining LEAP Josie worked for CDC in the Education team supporting the lobbying activity of the Special Educational Consortium, the delivery of a project focused on supporting young people in custody with SEN and a programme of national conferences.

As a qualified primary school teacher Josie has a strong background working with children and young people and also has previous experience working with a global children’s charity including volunteering as community partner for Save the Children’s’ Families and Schools Together.


Lucy Way, Project Assistant 

Some descriptionLucy supports the parent champion programme, public health and monitoring and evaluation as a project assistant at LEAP.

As a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a keen interest in infancy and early childhood health, Lucy has a wealth of skills honed while working in a variety of community health settings with children, parents and professionals in previous roles.

Prior to joining LEAP Lucy worked in the NHS supporting a multidisciplinary team in a pioneering centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism research in Oxford. She has experience of working in the community as a Health Champion supporting Dieticians at child obesity clinics and delivering health information to parents and children at community centres and at cook and eat sessions.

Lucy is driven by compassion and enthusiasm for addressing child health inequalities, and the wider determinants of health and well-being and is delighted to be part of a ground-breaking programme such as LEAP.