Reaching more families using the festival model

Tanya Spence and Davina Belcher from LEAP’s Community Engagement team, describe the benefits of packaging early years offers under one theme.

Tanya Spence

‘Anything to get us all outdoors together!’ was the cry of one of the parents at our online Early Years Forum, back in early May, as we asked what they would like to see as a LEAP offer over the summer.

After more than a year of repeated lockdowns, lost opportunities to socialise and a lack of full access to key services, the summer holiday was a much-needed window of fun and freedom for our families.

The birth of the festival

Together the community engagement team began to

hatch a plan for our ‘Summer festival of family fun’. The aim was to give families a wide range of opportunities to get out and about as much as possible, have fun and re-connect with each other. We also wanted to showcase the early years services that LEAP and the community have to offer.

Davina Belcher

This ‘festival-style’ model appeals because we can draw all our engagement sessions, activities and events together under one theme. We have been trialling it over the past year, starting with our Winter With Us campaign, followed by our Bump, Baby & Me festival and leading to it really taking off with the summer festival.

From circus troops and puppet shows to baby yoga and dad’s get-togethers, we worked with local Voluntary and Community Service partners, children’s centres, LEAP services and most importantly, our parent community to create a varied festival timetable of 40 engaging events.

Just over 730 people attended the summer festival, with 68% of participants being new to LEAP.

Families with children of all ages came along but there were a lot of new parents with babies under 12 months. Many of these parents had heard about LEAP through our Bump, Baby & Me festival for parents with lockdown babies, from earlier in the year.

What our families have to say

We had an overwhelmingly positive response from parents. In feedback surveys, 96% of parents said that they had a positive experience and felt very welcomed. 72% indicated they learned something new and they would recommend LEAP to a friend.

“There was a good range of events for different preschool ages. I was really pleased to have events over the summer when previously most preschool provision stopped in the school holidays. It was also great having outside providers like the circus come in. It made it really feel like a “special” event for the kids.”

“Lots of events and different times, places and age groups.”

“It was great to have so much to do over the summer. The variety of the programme was great, sessions well run and enjoyable. As someone who works in early years, I can tell the care and attention that had gone into the planning and the programme.”

“Sessions were relevant… and educational.”

Community partners also felt the energy and momentum of working in this way:

“A particular shout out to the LEAP team. We really loved having you there and appreciated your support very much. And to all the artists and providers that laid on activities for local people - they loved them and showed it by staying around despite the horrible weather!”– Tori one of our Voluntary and Community Service partner leads

“The content of the summer sessions were culturally reflective of local communities and you can’t overestimate how important that is. LEAP also introduced us to the Flying Seagulls Circus, who brought our summer camp to a close with a raucous and fun performance that put the icing on the cake of a summer to remember for so many of our young residents.’ – Sam, Community Development Manager, Pinnacle housing

The many benefits of the festival model

We found that the summer festival gave us increased opportunities to collaborate with community partners. Services were keen to come along to events because face-to-face engagement levels were high after such a long time of everything being remote due to the pandemic. The buzz around the festival even led to partners reaching out to us to ask if they could be involved.

The festival created room for meaningful co-production with parents. We worked with them at every stage to develop the offer, the promotional materials and even the name. Many volunteers helped deliver the events throughout the festival. Our volunteer Parent Representatives hosted listening stations at key events.

We have seen the positive impact of this festival-model over the summer. The successes include, increased engagement, higher attendance from people new to LEAP and a more opportunities to collaborate with both parents and partners from the community.

We have gathered all these insights, and the suggested improvements from parents to develop and launch our newest festival: I am me - a celebration of life, culture and diversity for little ones. We are also already planning one for the new year. For us, this way of working has shown its worth and it is here to stay.

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.

Sign-up to join our mailing list.