Giving birth to a happy, healthy Baby Week

Grainne Slavin, Senior Communications Officer at Better Start Bradford, shares learning from their highly successful Baby Week Bradford.

Grainne Slavin

As a test and learn programme, we’re well-drilled in launching ourselves into the unknown. Scary as it may feel though, we’re never truly starting with a blank page and it’s good to remind ourselves in these situations of the vast stores of experience, skills, knowledge, and connections we have at our disposal.

Make no mistake, organising a Baby Week takes all these things, and often a little bit more…

Where it all started

Our Baby Week Bradford journey began in 2017 when several members of staff attended events at nearby Baby Week Leeds. It was our specialist midwife, Alison, who came back to the office sufficiently fired up to declare, “We need a baby week in Bradford!” The idea was wholeheartedly backed by senior management and off we went. The first Baby Week Bradford was born in November 2018.

What is Baby Week?

In essence, Baby Week is a celebration of babies. It’s a chance to put them, and all the people who care for them, in the spotlight.

The week itself can take a variety forms, shapes and sizes, but for us it’s an opportunity to highlight what’s on offer in Bradford for expectant families and families with babies and toddlers, develop best practice, give families the opportunity to celebrate babies at some seriously fun-packed events, and tell the whole of Bradford that babies are important.

As we usually work across just three wards, for Better Start Bradford it's also a golden opportunity to share our work, learning and messages with the whole Bradford district. Although it’s just a week, it has the potential to raise the profile of babies all year round.​

Believe it or not, the first ‘National Baby Week’ took place in 1917 (to find out more, read Lynda Bryder’s fascinating article). The modern-day equivalent started in Leeds in 2015 (inspired by the ‘Semana do Bebe’ in Brazil), and - now established in Bradford and Cheshire & Merseyside - a UK-wide movement is gradually building, with the hope that other cities and regions will jump on board. From 2023, it will take place on the same dates each year - 14 to 20 November - ending on World Children’s Day.

What does Baby Week look like in Bradford?

Organisations host a variety of events and activities for families and the maternity and early years workforce across the district, centred around a particular theme. In the early days, the theme was purposely quite broad to encourage as many organisations and individuals as possible to get involved. Over the years we’ve found it much more beneficial to narrow the theme down so that it can be explored in greater depth, also making it easier for us to package up and promote.

Here’s a summary of our five Baby Weeks so far:

2018: Being a baby in Bradford and beyond

The call to action to host events was released district-wide to cross-sector partners and communities. Over 1000 people attended more than 40 baby-focused events for families and the workforce, including a baby-friendly launch and closing events organised by us.

2019: Celebrating babies in Bradford and beyond

This time we engaged 1250 people across 40 events. We held our first baby raves at the National Media Museum: a huge hit, with a few people even sneaking over from Hull for a boogie. We also had our first events aimed specifically at dads and male carers. This joyful highlight video shows the sheer variety of events and activities on offer that year.

2020: Why wellbeing matters

Having come out of the first lockdown but under the threat of further lockdowns, the vast majority of events offered in 2020 were online, including a pre-recorded baby rave launch event. With lockdown 2 announced just days before Baby Week started, the handful of in-person events that had been organised were either moved online or cancelled. We welcomed on board new partners, Bradford Literature Festival, who brought a different dimension to the week with What Have I Done; a conversation with author and Illustrator, Laura Dockrill, and Saima Mir.

2021: Bradford Babies are EVERYONE’S business

Emerging from the pandemic but with caution in our hearts, a hybrid programme of events was the order of the day. Baby Week always brings surprises and this year’s lovely surprise was Live Music Now. Families were captivated by their two beautiful family concerts, with plenty of space for dancing. We worked closely with Baby Week Cheshire and Merseyside meaning we could share and cross-promote online events. Ahead of the week we asked people to tell us why they thought babies were everyone’s business – watch this video to find out what they said.

2022: Bradford Babies TALKING

Over 700 people attended 20 events focused on speech, language and communication in the early years – a pertinent theme for the Bradford district at this time. With many people yet to attend a largescale event since the pandemic, we wanted to coax them back out to connect with other families or colleagues they hadn’t seen for a while. Hence, we launched the week with a huge interactive family event at Bradford City Football Club, with over 20 activities, a quiet space and sensory room, a very loud brass ensemble and, of course, a baby rave!

At the workforce equivalent, Floella Benjamin drew in the crowds as our guest speaker, with additional keynotes from experts in the field as detailed in this thoughtful reflection of the day. We also developed a Top Talking Tips booklet and wallchart which was distributed to early years settings as part of a special ‘Babble Bundle’.

Want to join the movement?

If you’re interested establishing a Baby Week in your own area, we’ve pulled together ten top tips drawing on our five years’ experience:

  1. Be true to your ‘place’ and the context in which you work. Baby Weeks can come in all shapes and sizes and need to be relevant for your specific audiences.
  2. Buy in from partners at a strategic level is essential. Utilise local intelligence and establish relationships with key organisations and individuals early in the process.
  3. The more succinct your theme, the easier it is to communicate to both prospective partners and the community. A specific theme also allows the chosen topic to be explored in depth and have more potential impact on system change.
  4. Less is more. Focusing on delivering a small number of high-quality events has proven to be easier and more impactful for us. An overpacked programme can be difficult to manage, potentially confusing to the public, and can lead to low attendance at smaller events.
  5. Community engagement is key. Offering freebies and fun activities can be a good way to engage the public, focusing on delivering your key messages once they’re through the door. Consider how best to engage lesser heard communities; this takes commitment and foresight but is incredibly rewarding.​
  6. Connections are crucial. A large-scale event with multiple partners running activities often holds more value than those individual organisations hosting independent events.
  7. The model is flexible. This is evidenced in the contrasting ways current host cities/regions deliver Baby Week, as well as in the different ways we’ve delivered it over the years in Bradford alone. COVID-19 also taught us all to have a plan B and be open to online/hybrid delivery.​
  8. Harness the learning from previous years. It’s a constant learning process and it’s in your gift to keep adapting and developing it. There are no rules.
  9. Bring Baby Week to the people. In the current, challenging climate it isn’t always possible for workforce and families to attend events. Offering an interactive activity package which can be used directly with families in settings they already attend is a great way to share key messages (like our Top Talking Tips booklet and wallchart from 2022).
  10. Embrace the process and enjoy it. Revel in being part of an important and growing movement and playing your part in putting babies in the spotlight.​ It’s hard work but totally worth it.

To find out more about Baby Week Bradford you can contact us at:

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.