Better Start Bradford’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Gill Thornton, Head of Programme at Better Start Bradford, describes their priorities for providing support during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Gill Thornton

As soon as it was clear the COVID-19 situation would affect the majority of our work we made arrangements for our core team of staff to work from home and contacted our projects (services) and strategic partners to share our plans and establish their response so we could co-ordinate a joined-up approach.

Our priorities were to:

  1. Support team transition to remote working
    Our core team is working from home using Microsoft Teams as the primary mechanism for team communication and managing the programme, including: daily meetings of our leadership team, weekly team meetings and 1:1 discussions with individuals at least weekly to check on people’s wellbeing as well as workload.
  2. Support our commissioned projects
    We have Identified and assisted with any modification to delivery or content to allow the offer to be delivered safely. Further information on what is available to families can be found here.
  3. Work with statutory and Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) partners to shape and contribute to the Bradford District response to COVID-19
    Better Start Bradford is maintaining close relationships with key partners and supporting the district-wide response. To do this we have relaxed our geographical restrictions for direct support for some projects and are advocating for the needs of babies and children.
    Working with partners we are seeing clear gaps emerge, such as reduced antenatal and postnatal contacts, no capacity to provide antenatal education remotely, access to information and suitable activities for 0 to 3-year-olds.

Our efforts to meet these needs include:

  • Directing pregnant women and vulnerable families to our projects. Most of our projects continue to offer support, albeit with significant changes, such as support over the phone or via video calls, by providing activity ideas on social media, or delivering live storytelling and baby massage sessions on Facebook.
  • Recognising the need for free accessible antenatal support and education, we have developed a series of virtual antenatal classes which are delivered via Zoom by midwives and other trained practitioners. These have proved extremely popular.
  • Developing the Bradford 1001 days digital offer along with Public Health and Children’s Services and helping develop a series of leaflets covering key areas for parents of 0 to 3-year-olds. These are now printed and being distributed.
  • Better Start Bradford activity packs for 0-3s with materials and information for families. These are being distributed via the Local Authority Community Hub.
  1. Provide capacity and support where needed to fill identified gaps
    Two members of our team have returned to their previous Health Visitor roles and acted as conduits to share further identified needs emerging for the NHS and from the local community.
    We are also allowing staff time to volunteer and provide support to local groups.
  2. Communicating our response
    Our communications activity has addressed the COVID-19 situation through a dedicated web page providing details of everything on offer from our projects and signposting to additional support. A dedicated activities page has also been set up to help families keep little minds and bodies active during lockdown.
    We have maintained our presence on social media and are running a radio campaign advertising play activity ideas for babies and toddlers.
  3. Support our wider workforce
    We are running our first webinar. During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Renowned research scientist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk will speak about “Seeing the world through babies’ eyes” and the impact of COVID-19 on the infant-parent relationship.

Next steps:

  • Continuing to support the local response, which is cautious in revising lockdown restrictions as Bradford still has a high R rate (0.8 compared to London at 0.4).
  • Our evaluation team (Innovation Hub) and Born in Bradford are conducting a survey Bradford-wide to understand further the impact on families and children. This will inform how we can make improvements.
  • Discussing future collaborations with partners, e.g. in the Family Hubs and Health Visiting Service to aim to retain and improve the integrated offer for our families.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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