Working with dads in Bradford

Shummel Uddin, Community Engagement Manager at Better Start Bradford, shares insights into their work with dads and how an article about it led to an invitation to present at the NAFIS conference.

Shummel Uddin

In November 2023, the Better Start Bradford (BSB) Family and Community Engagement team were invited to speak at the National Association of Family and Information Services conference during their Engaging Dads workshop.

The online event was organised by Coram Family and Childcare (formerly known as the Family and Childcare Trust), and they approached us to present after they read our article, Dads Can Cook Too, on The National Lottery Community Fund website.

We held a presentation sharing our success stories and provided insights on how BSB have successfully engaged with dads and male carers, overcoming barriers, and arranging specific sessions and activities aimed at them.

Over 40 professionals attended the workshop, all of whom fed back how useful they had found both the workshop and presentation, and many of whom mentioned that they would take back the ideas on how they can approach and interact with dads and male carers.

Why are we focusing on working with dads?

One of Better Start Bradford’s aims is to involve parents and carers as equal partners. During all our community engagement work we have had face-to-face conversations with service users, the local community and families including mums, dads, and grandparents. We asked them about existing provisions for dads and what they would like to see happen in their community. The feedback was that there is a lack of focus and engagement from organisations for dads and male carers in the early years setting.

Furthermore, as dads tend to be the working parent in our area, there are very few service provisions available for them to access on evenings and at weekends out of usual working hours. We focused on this audience as there is a stereotype that men are hard to engage and interact with and have no interest in attending sessions and activities with their young children.

Better Start Bradford has long understood the importance of fathers’ and male carers’ role in their child’s early years, and how their involvement leads to better cognitive and social development, empathy and self-esteem. (1,2,3) Our work with dads allows us to share this learning and enable dads to see for themselves the positive benefits of spending time and doing activities with their under 4s.

How did we approach dads and male carers?

We understood that the most important aspect was to create awareness and share details of the services and provisions available in Bradford. Through our Family and Community Engagement workers, we were able to have conversations face to face and share this information by building links with different grassroots organisations which our targeted audience would predominantly use. We visited over 30 different organisations, ranging from Madrassas and Mosques, church groups and a Gurdwara, to sports clubs and teams.

In 2021, we set up a specific dads WhatsApp group as they had told us this was the best way to communicate with them. Following this, throughout our work we recruited more dads to the group; we now have over 150 members and it continues to grow. We use this platform to share family and community engagement events, project and services information and other information that is relevant to the group, such as our Dads Cook and Eat sessions, woodwork workshops and festive fun events.

What were the potential barriers to dads engaging?

There were several barriers that dads and male carers disclosed to us which prevented them from attending play groups and activities with their children, such as no weekend groups to attend, or the duration of the sessions being too long. Furthermore, many dads advised us that they would prefer sessions to be ‘more practically engaging’ and ‘hands-on’, such as woodworking sessions.

Other potential barriers included:

  • Language – as some parents first language was not English
  • Accessibility – some parents didn’t drive and some had difficulty using public transport and were not confident about travelling and attending sessions
  • Cultural issues – where it may be seen in some communities that men should not be attending sessions, as it is seen as a mother’s role.

We addressed these barriers though building relationships and organising activities in venues and at times which allowed the dads to participate, share experiences and understand better the value of their involvement.

Successful dads projects, events and activities that we have delivered

The Better Start Bradford team have delivered numerous successful projects such as Dads

Cook and Eat sessions, Stay and Play, Balance Ability Bikes, Toddler Football, Woodwork Workshops and different trips for families with 0–3-year-olds. The trips we organised included visits to places such as Ponderosa Zoo, Ilkley Moor, Tong Garden Centre and Tropical World in Leeds, as the dads had never been to these locations before with their young children.

We organised and delivered a networking event called The Men’s Information Market at Laisterdyke Library, where we had stall holders from different organisations promoting their services specifically for dads and male carers. Services that attended included Carers Resource, support for male carers Men’s Shed,a mental health support group, and Men Reaching Out, a support service for male victims of domestic abuse.

Last year, we also organised an event to celebrate International Men’s day with the focus being on the role of a father.

We organised this event in partnership with the Laisterdyke Hub, Bradford Council and Happy Healthy You. We had over 70 people attend, the majority of whom were men. A variety of organisations held information stalls, including Men Reaching Out, Andy’s Man Club and Carers Resource. We had on hand a social prescriber offering free blood pressure checks to attendees throughout the day. Guest speakers included Imam Maulana Usman Gulzar, PC James Elliot, Lord Mayor Councillor Gerry Barker and Dr Sufyan Abid Dogra, a Research Fellow at Born in Bradford, who spoke about the father’s role in the bio-psycho-social development of children. The event was also an opportunity to share leaflets and Information about Better Start Bradford activities and projects.

Sustainability and future

As part of our role, we are looking at ways to develop and sustain the groups by working in partnership with organisations, such as schools, community centres, and faith institutions, to take ownership and support the group by allowing free use of their facilities and access on weekends.

One of our groups, Dad’s Army, has successfully created a partnership with Dixons Marchbank Primary school. The school has a wonderful playroom facility and garden for 0 to 3-year-olds which is now being used by the group every Saturday during term time. The garden was fully renovated through our Better Place project and includes wooden play equipment, a mini assault course with beautiful wooden bridges leading to an outdoor storytelling area with toadstools for children to sit on. The school is also looking into funding for the group so they can do more activities and intervention work. The dads’ groups have also been made aware of how to become a constituted group and how that will allow them to apply for alternative funding themselves. As the Better Start Bradford programme comes to an end in 2025, it is important that we provide the best opportunities and platforms for these group to continue the work, contributing to our legacy work as an organisation.

Some feedback from dads about our work

“I wasn’t aware that there was a dads only sessions out there until I joined the Better Start Bradford WhatsApp group. Through this I have not only spent quality time with my children, but also met other great fathers.”

“It is my first time attending these Cook and Eat sessions with my daughter, we had lots of fun and I will definitely be coming back.”

“Attending the Saturday morning sessions with other dads has allowed me to give my wife a well-deserved break!”

“I am happy that Better Start Bradford are doing something for us dads especially the fact that I am working through the week. The weekend is the only real time I get to spend with my kids and I’m very happy that there are things I can attend close to home, thank you.”

“If it wasn’t for Better Start Bradford, I would have not understood just how important it is to spend quality play time with your child. Since I have been attending these sessions over the last few years, I have noticed how my relationship with my son has really blossomed and how much of my behaviour has an impact and influence on him. I hope this message gets out to other dads out there.”


1 - Fathers play an important role in a child's development and can affect a child's social competence, performance in school and emotion regulation. Fathers can also affect a child's wellbeing indirectly. A supportive relationship between parents is linked to better self-regulation in a child.

2 - Fathers (and father figures) make a vital contribution to their children’s development. What fathers have to offer their children is different from what mothers offer, but it is just as important to the child.

3 - Children whose fathers read, play, sing and draw with them show a “small but significant” increase in their educational attainment at primary school, according to research that suggests just 10 minutes a day could make a difference.

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.