A Better Start Blackpool Visit LEAP

Tanya Spence, People in the Lead Manager at LEAP, explains how LEAP and Blackpool Better Start colleagues got together to learn from each other.

Staff at Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP) were in good company recently when Colin Smy, Community Development Manager for Blackpool Better Start (BBS), paid a visit.

Lambeth and Blackpool make up two of five areas in receipt of A Better Start (ABS) funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. The ABS programme takes a test and learn approach to understanding and improving good early years development, in localities which have a high level of need. As all five ABS sites across the UK enter the last phase of this 10-year funded work, they continue to take opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.  There is power in the opportunity to share and explore learning. After visiting the Liz Atkinson Children's Centre, where the LEAP team are based, it was off the GreenHut in Brixton Windmill Gardens, to meet a range of partners that LEAP has developed strong links with. Many of these partners will continue to deliver services to families with very young children beyond the end of the LEAP programme.

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Parent voice and engagement with parents, as equal stakeholders, has been at the heart of ABS programme delivery. A rich example of this commitment in practice was shared by Colin, who talked with LEAP partners about early development of the BBS Community Connectors programme. Community Connectors are a team of people who work in the community and help families to navigate the help and support on offer. Colin shared that critically, local families worked to develop this role, families shared their ideas about support and even helped to construct the Connector job description.

"Parents wanted someone they could talk to on their level and someone they could connect well with. They wanted to hear from someone who grew up in the area".  Colin Smy, Community Development Manager, Blackpool Better Start.

Photo: Davina Belcher, LEAP, and Colin Smy, BBS

Working with parents

LEAP and BBS share a strong commitment to working closely with parents. During this visit, Colin met and heard from two local parents. Parent volunteers Kadeanne Lynn and Cara Lloyd, both served as volunteers and interns for BIG (Besty’s Inspirational Guidance) on the Dream BiG Young parents hub, an initiative previously funded by LEAP. The hub recognises and advocates for young parents as a distinct group with particular needs. Through the work of the hub, young parents are supported with self-care and self-development.

"It's easy to forget that spaces are needed for young parents in Lambeth too. I was attending activities with my child and only ever seeing older parents around". Cara Lloyd, Parent Volunteer

BiG’s young parents often run activities from the GreenHut community space in Brixton. They talked about the vital need to support young parents, and the added complexities and challenges that young parents face. They need interconnected support and services. Young Parent Kadeanne explained that her experiences through BiG had resulted in improved confidence, new skills, and a sharper focus on the future.

Local community spaces

In typical London style, the weather for the visit was variable. However, visiting the beautiful GreenHut space made up for it. This prompted some discussion about the importance of close to home local and accessible spaces for families. Colin was introduced to Community Education Foundation Lyncx (CEF Lyncx), who run the GreenHut. LEAP and CEF Lyncx have run weekly dance sessions for parents and children, which are very popular. 

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Colin learned that over time, and as dance sessions grew in popularity, families became more familiar with both LEAP and CEF Lyncx wider service provision.  Working with LEAP had encouraged CEF Lyncx to further develop the opportunity to work more with families with babies and very young children. More is now on offer for under 5’s at the GreenHut and LEAP is proud that the GreenHut, join with other spaces, to continue to run sessions for families with young children.

"Early years is a new area for us. Having this space to support early years closes the loop with everything else that we do and offer". Christian Johnson, Executive Director, CEF Lyncx   

Photo: Christian Johnson, CEF Lyncx, and Lionel Best,BiG.

Investing in Partnerships

Perhaps the biggest topic of conversation concerned the incredible partnership work, across the community, to support families with young children. Discussions re-emphasised the importance of collaborative working to support some of the most vulnerable and less engaged families.

"Parents don’t always want to talk to professionals, but they will talk to a local organisation who they are engaged with. At LEAP we see have seen what community organisations are doing and have been excited about how we can work together". Davina Belcher, CoCreate Partnerships Manager, LEAP 

Andrea Paltzer, Fundraising and Business Development Manager at Art4Space, talked with Colin later in the day.   She explained that a shared passion for supporting families with under 5’s had brought together a number of small community groups. This shared passion grew and led to the creation of First 5 Lambeth, Lambeth’s first ever early years consortium, made possible with support from the LEAP programme. The consortium brings together a diverse range of local organisations, like Art4Space and BiG, who are all using their expertise to give families with young children a better start.

"LEAP has created a space for us and has been a nurturing organisation, helping us to develop connections. It’s important and shouldn’t be underestimated". Lionel Best, Director of Operations, BIG

As the LEAP programme draws to an end later this year, most of the services and activities that LEAP has offered to families will continue to be delivered by other organisations in Lambeth. It was wonderful to reflect on LEAP’s learning and achievements, with another member of the ABS family. 

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