A Better Start

A Better Start

A Better Start

Improving the life chances of children aged 0-3

A Better Start is a 10 year, £215 million National Lottery funded programme focused on promoting good early childhood development. The programme funds local partnerships in five areas across England to test new ways of making support and services for families stronger, so that children can have the best start in life.

Aims & approach

What is ‘A Better Start’ doing?

A Better Start builds on research, which shows that early childhood can set the foundation for future learning, behaviour and health.

From 2015 to 2025, our five programme partnerships will design, implement, deliver and test ways to support babies and very young children and their families that respond to the local context, environment and needs of the children living in their local area’s community.

Each partnership has developed individual strategies to promote good early childhood development, drawing on existing science and research. While each of the programmes look different, all are working towards the same three outcomes to help children up to four years old:

  • Improve their diet and nutrition, to support healthy physical development and protect against illness in later life.
  • Develop social and emotional skills, to help them build positive relationships and cope with difficult situations.
  • Develop language and communication skills, to help them engage with the world around them.

A Better Start is 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.

People in the lead

Parents are best placed to shape potential solutions and that’s why they are involved in every aspect of our programme as equal partners. They take part in decision making, designing and commissioning services, delivering and promoting activities, supporting other families and evaluation activities.

Across all five partnerships, parents play a key role in making change happen in their communities by reaching out to other parents who may not know about the support available to them, or who may be struggling.


Over the lifetime of the programme, our five partners will learn what works, and what doesn’t in improving outcomes for children living in their local areas.

We also want learning from the programme to be useful to other people in similar fields of work so that many more children can benefit.

Our latest programme ‘insight’ report, A Better Start through Better Systems, highlights contemporary approaches to effective systems change and includes case studies from across the five A Better Start partnerships.

Read A Better Start Programme Briefing (PDF, 800KB) for learnings from the first three years of the programme.


The national evaluation of A Better Start is being delivered by the Warwick Consortium and will run throughout the 10 year programme. Mixed methods will be used to evaluate the impact and cost-effectiveness of the programme and help us understand the difference it has made.

Our programme partnerships will also undertake evaluation, ensuring that improvements and decisions are made based on the best evidence.

Find out more about the national evaluation at abetterstart.org.uk


Read updates from across the A Better Start programme sharing our experiences as we develop innovative ways to give babies and very young children the best possible start in life

Sharing is caring - How sharing learning from innovative early years work can benefit the whole sector

Characters that change behaviour - A creative campaign built on behaviour science is supporting early years services across several very different locations

Improving Outdoor Play Spaces - Capital investment and improving outcomes for young children

Replacing ‘should’ with ‘why’ and ‘wow’ - An explanatory approach to communicating early childhood development

Research, policy and practice news May 2019 - The latest news for the early years sector highlighted at recent A Better Start ‘Communities of Practice’.

As the funder of A Better Start, what advice would we give to others? - With over four years of the programme complete, we give some reflections for those considering doing something similar.

Why exchanging knowledge matters - How A Better Start Southend is supporting knowledge exchange and giving local practitioners access to the latest research.

We Can Do It! A call to action on early child and brain development - Babies’ brains develop at almost unimaginable rates. Small Steps Big Changes in Nottingham is taking steps to support this vital process.

Talking dads - During pregnancy, birth and the early years, attention is often centred on mother and baby, but we shouldn’t overlook the contribution that fathers can make.

What next for evidence? - Replicating successful evidence-based interventions doesn’t always work, but the chances of success can be increased by remembering four important things.

Breastfeeding support - Breastmilk is good for babies, but mothers often benefit from support and advice to continue breastfeeding.

Giving parents and children a leading role in evaluation - A bold impact evaluation by Small Steps Big Changes in Nottingham is going the extra mile to involve parents and children as researchers.

Adverse childhood experiences - Traumatic experiences that occur before the age of 18 can have a significant impact on children throughout their lives. In Lambeth, professionals are coming together to develop solutions.

Transforming health visitor services in Blackpool - Blackpool Better Start have put health visitors at the centre of their strategy. What have they learnt in the process?

Community engagement - What does co-production in community engagement work look like? And how has Southend created a truly child-centred mascot?

Developing community voice - Putting people at the heart of work in Nottingham has enabled parents to play a leading role in the programme.

Ideas Fund – encouraging innovation by communities - In Nottingham, a community-led scheme is commissioning grass-roots projects for young children and families.

Referral guide for local practitioners - Feedback from local practitioners has led to the creation of a one-stop reference guide to LEAP’s support programmes.

Lambeth Breastfeeding Peer Support - how we make a difference - Partnership working is important in providing support for women breastfeeding their children.

'A Stitch in Time Saves Nine’ - Why a little bit of mental health training can go a long way - An infant mental health service in Bradford is supporting early intervention by sharing best practice with other practitioners.

Parent Obsession Group – Parent Champions in Nottingham are working to remedy poor dental health among children in their local communities.

Alcohol Exposed Pregnancies – drinking alcohol during pregnancy can contribute to a range of birth defects. A campaign in Blackpool has been telling local people about the dangers.

Overcrowded housing – Living in overcrowded accommodation can undermine the health and happiness of children and families. In Lambeth, a service is reaching out to provide support.

Inspiration on how to play - In Lambeth, early years practitioners are considering how to offer rich and varied play opportunities.

Dads matter too! - The positive effect of involving fathers in early years interventions is borne out by research, including in breastfeeding support.

Talking transitions - Managing the journey from pre-school to primary school is vital in ensuring a child’s emotional wellbeing is protected.

Transforming Blackpool together - The Blackpool Better Start annual conference highlighted the impact of the partnership and gave a chance to learn more about two exciting services.

Southend’s Stories: A video campaign is encouraging children’s early literacy by sharing books and storytelling.

Sign-up to receive updates from the A Better Start ‘Shared Learning’ programme

Our responses to government

Science and Technology select committee – Evidence-bases early years interventions (PDF, 198KB)

Education select committee – Life Chances (PDF, 225KB)

Health and Social care select committee – First 1,000 Days of Life (PDF, 115KB)


From 2015 to 2025, our five programme partnerships will design, implement, deliver and test ways to support babies and very young children and their families in their local community.

  • Blackpool Better Start

    Blackpool Better Start

    Blackpool Better Start’s strategy focuses on reducing critical pressures on families, like drugs and alcohol, mental ill health, domestic abuse and social isolation to build better parenting knowledge and skills. Visit website
  • Better Start Bradford

    Better Start Bradford

    A Better Start Bradford works with the community, public agencies and local academics to offer services and support - provided by trained volunteers and a skilled workforce - in people’s homes and in the community. Visit website
  • Lambeth Early Action Partnership

    Lambeth Early Action Partnership

    Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP) delivers a range of services - co-designed with the community and local partners - for parents and early years professionals and practitioners, to support children, families and the wider community. The development of these services has been underpinned by a public health approach, meaning that they are supporting individual children and families as well as their wider environment. Visit website
  • Small Steps Big Changes

    Small Steps Big Changes

    Driven by local parents and communities, Small Steps Big Changes puts parents and communities at the centre of design, commissioning and decision-making services for children in Nottingham. Visit website
  • A Better Start Southend

    A Better Start Southend

    A Better Start Southend brings together professional and volunteer workers with parents and carers of children, up to the age of four, to transform the way that children’s services are delivered. Visit website

For further information about the programme contact: Sarah Gibbs, Head of Funding abetterstart@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk

Case studies