Engaging and supporting ‘Community Champions’
Sarah Creek, Early Years Programme Manager at the National Children’s Bureau, discusses the importance of local parents acting as advocates and outreach champions to engage with other local families in Nottingham.
Community volunteers play a key role in all the five A Better Start partnerships and a recent webinar showed their value, importance and impact in Nottingham. Small Steps Big Changes (SSBC), shared learning event Engaging and supporting ‘Community Champions’, held in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust, shared learning from two projects that engage with and support community champions in Nottingham. Attendees heard directly from the volunteers involved and their passion, commitment and enthusiasm were clearly evident, as was the difference they have made in their community.
Read On Nottingham
Read on Nottingham is part of the National Literacy Trust, aiming to raise literacy levels across the city and is one of a growing network of 16 place-based Literacy Hubs. The key aim is to improve reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to boost the life chances of children and young people. Through promoting reading for pleasure, Read On aims to encourage communities to enjoy literacy through:
- Sharing messages about the joy of reading
- Donating books and other resources within their community
- Promoting local services
- Planning and organising literacy-related events
Charlotte Malik, Hub Manager, explained that Literacy Champions play a key role in the Read On initiative, helping to reach children and families directly to increase motivation to read for pleasure. Literacy Champions come from all walks of life and are people who volunteer to help improve literacy at the heart of their community.
What explains Literacy Champions engagement?
Findings from an evaluation of the Literacy Champions Project in Nottingham were shared, which identified four key factors:
- Personal motivation, skills & interests
- Support & resources available
- Flexibility of volunteering
- Focus on community
Two Literacy Champions involved in Read On Nottingham explained what they do and reflected on their experience. Shanine said that her engagement as a Literacy Champion has been sustained through enjoyment of being involved in a fantastic project and the support from the Literacy Champion project manager and wider team. Emily described how the community focus - the place-based approach, really being part of the community and seeing the difference you can make – is important and gives a sense of empowerment. It is evident that passion about a cause and working alongside people within the community brings about positive change.
SSBC Parent Champions
Parent Champions play a key role in SSBC, and two Parent Champions, Amanda and Melkorka, shared reflections and learning from their experience and the journey of SSBC Parent Champions:
Recognition that volunteering isn’t easy
Best decisions and ideas happen when everyone is on an ‘equal level footing’ – professionals and parents both have the chance to express their thoughts and opinions
We’re always constantly learning and improving
Parent Champions are not tokenistic, but seen as real and valued members of the SSBC team who can help shape system change and enable co-production
Support of the SSBC team has enabled Parent Champions to develop confidence, find their voice and that what they say matters and will make a difference
Findings were shared from the SSBC Parents Still Leading the Way Report, a project which explored ways of growing and sustaining parent voice, leadership and support within and beyond the organisation. Themes emerged from the stories about why people are involved with SSBC Parent Champions, the successes and challenges and looking ahead to the future.
Many successes have been shared as part of the SSBC Parent Champion journey including:
- Increased self-confidence
- Learning/professional development opportunities
- Making friends
- Feeling like you are making a difference
- Parents are listened to, and contributions recognised
- Support received as a Parent Champion
- Pride in being an SSBC Parent Champion
There is also recognition that there have been challenges along the way, including:
- Working with others collaboratively
- Engaging parents
- Processes and boundaries
- Pace of change
- Engaging parents
The future – there are 4 key areas people want to take forward within SSBC and beyond:
- The power of parent voice
- Self-organisation parent-led groups -potential for parents to lead without professionals
- Early Learning Centre – something left as a resource
- Family Mentors and how these might be sustained in communities
Throughout the journey, SSBC Parent Champions clearly feel they have been listened to, have been heard and have made a difference. This work is proving how effective and powerful a collective of parent voices can be, and the future for parent voice in Nottingham and beyond is both exciting and inspiring.