Building trust and engagement in Lambeth

Tanya Spence, People in the Lead Manager at Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP), explains how they have delivered a complex programme of community engagement in an inner-London community where 68% of children live in ‘very deprived’ neighbourhoods.

The LEAP area of Lambeth

Tanya Spence

In 2021, there were approximately 64,800 people living in the LEAP area of Lambeth, around 2,641 of whom were aged under 4-years-old (Census 2021). This area is densely populated, and comprises a diverse, culturally rich community.

According to the 2021 schools census, nearly 150 different languages are spoken by Lambeth school children. Economic disadvantage impacts the lives of many, and in the areas where LEAP works, there are greater inequalities for young children compared with the rest of Lambeth.

In the area where LEAP works, in 2021:

  • 41% of residents were not born in the UK.
  • 70% of residents did not identify as white British.
  • 88% of 5-year-olds were not identified as white British.
  • 19% of residents had English as an additional language.
  • 49% of 5-year-olds had English as an additional language.
  • 47% of residents were living in social rented housing.
  • 68% of children were living in very deprived neighbourhoods.

The main aim of LEAP’s Community Engagement programme is to connect families to one another, and to the broad range of more than 20 LEAP services. In 2021, LEAP’s Community Engagement programme reached 31% of all children living in the LEAP area.

Service engagement

Our data shows that one in five families whose initial contact with LEAP is through community engagement activities later go on to use other LEAP services. On average, these families engage with more of our services than families who first enter LEAP’s programme through other routes.

From 2017 to 2023, LEAP’s community engagement programme delivered:

  • 1,824 events which reached 3,058 families and 3,437 children.
  • 29 early years forums (designated spaces for parent engagement).
  • 1,483 keeping-in-touch sessions in the community.
  • 299 one-off events – including 10 themed festivals.

In total, this resulted in 36,000 attendances (this includes individuals attending multiple events) with 5.41 times being the average number of times an individual engaged with LEAP. Furthermore, 96% of parents and carers agreed or strongly agreed that their overall experience with LEAP community engagements activities was positive.

The core values which drive our community engagement work include:

  • Maintaining a physical and digital presence.
  • Recognising parents as experts.
  • Investing in activities and opportunities which help to connect and build trust.
  • Placing partnerships at the heart

We work with and are led by families.

LEAP’s parent volunteers are known as Parent Champions. They support other parents and carers, introducing them to children’s centres, the various LEAP services, and the broader early year offers. We recognise parents and carers as experts. During our People in the Lead (PiL) participation sessions, we encourage parents and carers of babies and very young children to share their opinions, experiences, and ideas.

Parent volunteers also offer specific support such as:

  • Digital Champions: Supporting local parents to access online early years services and activities.
  • Befrienders: Supporting more vulnerable parents and carers to access support.
  • Parent Representatives: advocating for LEAP and a diverse range of parents.

We know that trust is important for parents and carers with very young children to engage in LEAP services and activities. Running activities in safe local spaces, making our activities family friendly, and having a consistent staff presence at our events helps us build this trust.

LEAP festivals

LEAP’s Community Engagement team use a family friendly festival campaign model to develop and market community sessions and events under one theme. Parents and carers are invited to co-design the festivals. Planning three themed festivals each year enables us to meet the needs of specific groups of families in the community. Our free activities are for families with children aged under 3, including children with additional needs. During school holidays, families can also bring older siblings.

LEAP Festivals have used the following themes:

  • Winter with us: A winter festival supporting families during lockdown, to help reduce social isolation.
  • Bump Baby and Me: An online-only festival, supporting new and expectant parents during lockdown.
  • Explore and learn: A festival organised in collaboration with children’s centres to engage new LEAP families.
  • Litle Movers and Shakers: An autumn theme, helping children stay active through movement, diverse song, and dance.
  • Summer Festivals of Family Fun: These run each year over the school holiday. Flagship events range from circuses to seaside playdays and sports days.
  • I am Me: An autumn theme focused on the beauty of Lambeth’s culture and diversity with carnival flagship events.
  • Home From Home: Responsive to the rising costs of living in 2022, our warm hub flagship events provided hot food in warm spaces.
  • Once Upon a Story Festival: Supporting the communication and language development of young children, with storytelling sessions by children’s authors.

Collaborative partnership working with local organisations

LEAP has partnership at the very heart of its working model. We work strategically with different community partners to deliver our festivals. Collaborative working is particularly important in our work, for example in our CoCreate scheme.

You can read more in LEAP’s guide Community Engagement in a diverse inner city area which has practical examples of what has worked for LEAP.

LEAP is one of five local partnerships which make up A Better Start, a national ten-year (2015-2025) programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund that aims to improve the life chances of babies, very young children, and 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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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.