Lottery early years fund will develop interventions for vulnerable families

Laura McCardle
Monday, July 7, 2014

A £215m pot is to help five charity-led consortia from Blackpool to Southend-on-Sea to design and deliver over 10 years a range of services for young children that will aim to put in place solid foundations for a successful life.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Elaine Hammans and Big Lottery Fund representative Jonathan Clark, with children at the Centre Place family centre
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Elaine Hammans and Big Lottery Fund representative Jonathan Clark, with children at the Centre Place family centre

Five charity-led consortia are about to embark on a 10-year quest to improve the life chances of vulnerable under-threes.

Each of the charities has been awarded a share of a £215m Big Lottery Fund pot to devise a long-term approach for supporting parents from the early stages of pregnancy up to when their child reaches three years old.

The aim of the Fulfilling Lives: A Better Start initiative is to improve the health, social and education outcomes of more than 60,000 vulnerable under-threes through changing the way systems are designed and services delivered.

The details of the five projects are outlined below.


The NSPCC has been awarded £45m to lead the Blackpool Better Start partnership, made up of Blackpool Council, various NHS organisations and local parents.

According to the charity, 30 per cent of babies born in Blackpool are born into poverty and the NSPCC wants to use the funding to prepare disadvantaged children for school.

Working in seven wards - Claremont, Talbot, Bloomfield, Park, Brunswick, Victoria and Clifton - the partnership will work together to provide early support for babies, giving special attention to their diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and communication and language.

The partnership will also use the funding to enhance existing services such as the successful Star Buddies breastfeeding programme, where volunteers support new mums to initiate and continue breast-feeding. Since its launch in 2007, rates of breastfeeding have risen from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, says the funding will have a significant impact on the lives of babies born in the town.

"From the moment a child is born, they should be given an equal chance of growing up as a healthy baby who can then grow up and achieve their potential," he says.


Bradford Trident, a community group that works with disadvantaged families, has been awarded £49m to lead the initiative in Bradford.

Gill Thornton, programme manager of the Better Start programme, says the deprivation in the region is high and suffers with high obesity rates, as well as high rates of infant mortality.

She says the city's diverse population means that disadvantaged children and families are often hard to reach and so the organisation will use the funding to improve their access to services.

The funding will be targeted at three wards - Bowling and Barkerend, Bradford Moor and Little Horton - with the aim of supporting 20,000 under-threes during the next decade.

Thornton says the group's work will be community-based, making use of children's centres and other public spaces.

"If we engage parents and children in the community, we think that's a much better way of embedding the message we're trying to get across," she explains.

The funding will be used to support a range of projects, including the expansion of the region's family nurse partnership and introducing English language classes for pregnant women and those with young children to help them better access services.

"We're expecting a big behavioural change and getting the message across is a long-term job," says Thornton.


The National Children's Bureau (NCB) has been awarded £36m to lead on the work of the Lambeth Early Action Partnership (Leap), which also comprises Lambeth Council, health services and local police leaders.

Andrew Eyres, chief officer of the NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group, says families living in the borough suffer with chronic health issues and obesity, and that a step-change is required to significantly improve outcomes.

As a result, Leap will target the funding at the wards of Coldharbour, Stockwell, Tulse Hill and Vassall, which are home to a quarter of the borough's under-18s, with the aim of improving the life chances of the next generation of young people.

The partnership will lead projects at 26 sites across the wards, working collaboratively with health and family support staff to provide more co-ordinated support to vulnerable families.

Leap wants to support 10,000 vulnerable babies and will use the funding to improve breastfeeding rates, reduce childhood and maternal obesity, and domestic violence.

Councillor Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council, says the funding will make a significant difference to young children living in the borough's poorest areas.

"Leap is about creating the right circumstances for people to be well all the time, rather than treating illness," she says. "By intervening early and preventing problems taking root, we will dramatically improve the lives of young people."


The Nottingham CityCare Partnership, which delivers a range of NHS services in health centres across the region, has been awarded £45m to lead its Small Steps Big Changes programme.

The partnership will use the funding to focus on tackling the "toxic stress" caused by instances of domestic abuse and parental mental health problems, but it will also target money at a wider range of services, such as nutrition initiatives, parent-child relationship programmes and infant massage classes.

Activities and classes will be run at 16 community centres across Nottingham, with the partnership also recruiting a team of paid family mentors to work alongside professionals.

Lyn Bacon, chief executive of the Nottingham CityCare Partnership, says joint working through community partnerships can have lasting positive effects on the lives of disadvantaged children.

"Since the start, we have seen parents and professionals coming together through our community partnerships to shape a proposal that proves Nottingham knows how to use this money well," she says.


The Pre-school Learning Alliance is to receive £40m to support 13,000 children through its Our Children, Our Community, Our Future project.

The funding will be targeted at six wards - Kursaal, Milton, Westborough, Victoria, Shoeburyness and West Shoebury - with the aim of improving the communication and language, social and emotional development, and diet and nutrition of very young children.

A key aim of the project will be to transform the town's maternity and parental support, using the funding to deliver activities at children's centres and to increase midwifery and health visiting services.

The funding will also be used to develop a Centre of Excellence, Innovation and Best Practice in the early years, which will bring workers from a number of agencies together in a bid to provide better co-ordinated care.

Elaine Hammans, commissioning and quality manager for early years at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, was seconded to the Pre-school Learning Alliance for the development of the project and says the impact of the project will be invaluable.

"This is an opportunity for us to really enhance and change the lives of our most deprived wards," she says. "We want a whole new pathway for maternity services. If we've got a healthy parent, we know they are more likely to have a healthy child. Potentially this could be life changing."



June 2013: Applications for funding closed

August 2013: The Big Lottery Fund announced that 15 areas would receive £5m to test early intervention projects for vulnerable under-3s

March 2014: The Social Research Unit at Dartington completes an eight-month project to assist pilot areas to identify local need and develop projects

June 2014: Five of the 15 pilot areas are selected to receive a share of £215m over the next 10 years to deliver their projects

September 2014: Implementation of the successful projects will begin



The five areas chosen to deliver the Better Start initiative were selected from a group of 15, which were last year awarded £5m each to lay the foundations of similar projects by a panel of early intervention and health experts.

The panel – public health adviser Kate Billingham, the Wave Trust chief executive George Hosking and University of Oxford research fellow Naomi Eisenstadt – asked the 15 areas to develop a local area profile, reflecting the needs of the local communities and demonstrating an understanding of how to address those needs.

The experts judged each area on their efforts to improve children's emotional development, diet and language development.

"Throughout the whole process, everyone was asked what do you know about the local area and what do you know about the local need in these three areas," Eisenstadt explains.

"It was up to the areas to say they had a programme that could work.

"We wanted them to do a mix of evidence-based programmes that have a history of change, some that need to be tried out and some innovation."

Before choosing the final five areas, the panel asked the leading charity in each area to prove that their work would bring together a range of local organisations who would invest in the projects.

"We wanted the voluntary organisations to bring together local partnerships that had put some of their own money in, saying they are willing to try this out and go the distance because it can change statutory behaviour," says Eisenstadt.

"Without that, you can never do it. We're really looking for a system change."

Eisenstadt says the regional variation in the final five areas had not been intentional, just that they were the ones that presented the best cases.

However, Billingham thinks the chosen areas represent parts of the country where there is potential to achieve the kind of social change required to dramatically improve the lives of disadvantaged babies.

"This is going to be incredibly challenging work to do for the local areas, and the rest of us need to be supporting them and giving them time and space to work well," she says.

"I'm particularly excited by the health engagement in this programme because so much of what happens in pregnancy and very young children is around the health services and health professionals.

"If we are really going to achieve sustainable change, health needs to be at the table."

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