A Better Start

Developing the Small Steps Big Changes (SSBC) community voice

A Better Start
  • Putting people at the heart of A Better Start work in Nottingham has enabled parents to play a leading role in the programme. The partnership has learnt some important lessons along the way.
  • Jane Flewitt (SSBC) and Paul Pearson (New Ground Consultancy)

Children at the heart, parents leading the way, supported and guided by experts’

Jane Flewitt
Paul Pearson

Our parents are, without a doubt, our main vehicle for system change. Having them at the centre of everything we do helps bring lasting change in our communities.

Elected through our community partnerships, the parents we work with truly represent their communities and the families who live there. They bring lived experience and expertise of what parenting means to them, in the context of their own communities, and share this providing a unique insight.

Our challenge is to continuously strengthen and embed the voices of our communities in everything we do; including our governance and the development and delivery of the SSBC programme and wider system change.

Our ‘Community Voices, Community Connection’ model helps achieve this; supporting and enabling our parents to have a ‘place at the table’ but more importantly to have a voice and be heard, leading to lasting ‘parent-powered’ change.

Our ‘Community Connection’ Governance Model

Our innovative approach to governance is focused on enabling parents and others who live and work in the four SSBC wards to have as much influence as possible over how the programme develops and grows and what it achieves. Therefore ensuring we have genuine community-led system change.

It is deliberately designed to enable parents to lead the way, or as one of our stakeholders described it: ‘injecting parents into the system’ and ‘turning the system on its head’!

Our Goals

Parent Champions contribute to shaping and influencing the SSBC programme by:

  • Bringing their knowledge and experience of what works in our SSBC wards to help shape and determine our future plans and development
  • Leading our Community Partnership Meetings
  • Being part of our recruitment process
  • Challenging traditional ways of thinking and doing
  • Being part of our SSBC Partnership Board; thereby influencing decision making
  • Serving as a constant reminder to our partners and stakeholders of the centrality of the community voice in the programme.

Parent Champions are involved in contributing to system change by:

  • Influencing strategic decisions as part of the Nottingham Strategic Systems Change Board
  • Supporting system change across the Early Years/Early Help landscape through involvement in 0-19 workstreams
  • Taking SSBC’s commitment to ‘put children at the heart with parents leading the way’ beyond the four wards we focus on, by speaking at local and national events
  • Helping system leaders understand, accept and value the role of community participation
  • Grounding debates and discussions in the realities of people’s lives
  • Using their collective community voice to raise awareness of, and impact on, the lives of families and children. For example, through the Parent Obsession Group (POG) and its focus on oral health
  • Holding system leaders to account for decisions.

Enabling our Parent Champions to develop and grow beyond SSBC

By commissioning an independent organisation[1] to support our Parent Champions they have become part of a national network of Parent Champions. This has provided opportunities to: learn from other established groups, be part of learning events, explore new opportunities, develop greater autonomy, and look at how they can grow their independence beyond the SSBC programme – thereby creating a sustainable legacy.

‘Developing the community voice is about empowering our strengths and helping us battle through our weaknesses. This will ensure our communities know that parents are not only serious about system change, but are willing to fight to ensure our actions have a lasting effect and that we are here to stay.’ Amanda Doughty, Parent Champion and Vice Chair, SSBC Partnership Board

Six learning points

  1. Genuine involvement is key – a commitment to making this work. Valuing everyone’s input and building trusting, respectful and supportive relationships is essential.
  2. Build strong foundations – developing our Parent Champion Programme through an independent provider brings autonomy and independence.
  3. Investment– it takes time and resources. We spent nine months developing and agreeing the Community Voice, Community Connections contract.
  4. Offer guidance and support – we work alongside our Parent Champions,
  5. Have fun! – Our parents are passionate about their involvement, but they are also fantastic fun. Sharing the ups and downs of being a parent helps remind us of why the ‘A Better Start’ programme is so important.
  6. Getting it Right? – It’s still work in progress, so we’ll get back to you on this one. Investing in the ethos of co-production, as a team, a programme and a partnership is a good start.

‘Parents are key to the success of SSBC, not just as a token or as receivers of the service but as the pivotal point around which our work with children will be measured. Unless parents are more confident, their voices heard and their skills developed, our success will be limited’

Councillor David Mellen, Leader of the Council, Nottingham City Council

Paul Pearson is Director of New Ground Consultancy / Jane Flewitt is Marketing and Communication Manager at Small Steps, Big Changes.

Useful resources:

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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