Evaluating the London Family Fund
Dr Debbie Weekes Bernard
Friday, March 19, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our city and our country, but it has also highlighted the power of relationships and local connections.
Over the past year many of us have relied on the kindness of neighbours and friends for vital practical and emotional support. Never have we so clearly seen the value of strong support networks and their role in sustaining healthy and resilient communities.
This has been particularly true for new parents who are already more likely to experience loneliness and anxiety. The lockdowns and social distancing measures have left many feeling more isolated and overwhelmed while at the same time balancing the responsibilities of parenting, homeschooling and work.
Our Survey of Londoners found that a quarter of parents in London felt socially isolated before the pandemic, and as a parent myself I know how hard this can be, while trying to maintain positive wellbeing for you, your children and family.
This is why the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, pioneered the London Family Fund: to support innovative projects that improve social integration among families of young children in London.
Real social integration is about shaping a city where people have more opportunities to interact positively and meaningfully, to feel less isolated and to build strong connections with others. It means supporting Londoners to play an active part in their communities and the decisions that affect them. It also means reducing barriers and inequalities, so Londoners can relate to each other as equals.
Over the past three years, the Mayor has provided £600,000 to bring families together, reduce isolation, and improve child and parent wellbeing. Projects and organisations across London have benefited directly from this fund.
And the impact it has had has been transformational. A Centrepoint sheltered housing scheme, provided support to young mothers at risk of homelessness and their children during lockdown by running music therapy sessions, child friendly cooking sessions, and ‘jump around’ PE classes once a week.
These activities gave these young mothers an opportunity to meet and build relationships with other young mums living in the same accommodation. Parents were able to form crucially helpful support and childcare bubbles with each other, improving their wellbeing, helping to reduce isolation and creating connections and friendships that can be so important in early parenthood, and which we know so many new parents have missed during this pandemic. Centrepoint noticed that families began to meet up to participate in online sessions together with their support bubble. Overall, the wellbeing and mental health of the young parents significantly improved and the positive impact this will likely have on them and their children as we come out of the lockdown will be immense.
The London Family Fund shows how important it is to invest in projects which encourage and support parents to build relationships across different social groups and form stronger networks. This success helps us understand how to best support families, both in the current environment but also as London recovers from the pandemic.
Our evaluation showed that parents felt more connected to their local area, experienced lower levels of isolation and developed more diverse social and support networks. They also said they had the opportunity to learn new skills and felt empowered to be more active citizens. This can only be a good thing as we look forward to ensuring that all Londoners feel able to play a part in how our city
recovers from this crisis, and for our parents, in feeling confident about the ways they can support themselves and their children to thrive
Covid-19 will have long-term social and economic effects on London’s families. We know, for example, that mothers were 47 per cent more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs or resigned from their jobs, and 14 per cent more likely to have been furloughed. Women have taken on more childcare responsibilities when working from home, yet more than half of those who need childcare report not having sufficient provision in place and that the lack of childcare was a substantial contributor to loss of a job and being furloughed.
We want to share and promote best practice in the family services and early years sectors, and I’d urge organisations and funders who want to deliver projects to consider our set of recommendations for doing this.
The collective trauma Londoners have experienced will likely have a significant impact on how we reconnect with each other. We must all now prioritise the building of supportive local networks and relationships. That is our best way to guarantee stronger and more resilient families and communities that can continue to thrive and to help us to ensure we do all we can to tackle isolation, build more equal communities and break down those barriers that seek to divide.
Dr Debbie Weekes Bernard is deputy mayor for social integration, social mobility and community engagement