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Strengthening early years communities 

Peter Grigg, Home-Start UK

Parenting young children can be the most delightful joy, but where parents are struggling with mental health, finances, or isolation – it can also be really tough. At Home-Start, when our volunteers spend time with families, we find it is the simple things – like a conversation or time together – that can have the most profound effect on a parent’s ability to cope. We do not see our role as there to ‘fix’ anything but to stand alongside families to build the strength and confidence within families to empower sustainable change.

When we meet businesses keen to work with Home-Start to inspire social change in the early years, we adopt a similar focus on building up existing strengths. We aim to avoid the temptation to create new fixes to variable problems. Instead, we first want to explore what’s already happening and how additional resources from businesses could strengthen those communities already working with families. Clearly, money and funding can be a big part of this – sustainable sources of income are vital for charities to continue to deliver their vital work. However, wider resources can also make a huge difference, including staff time, organisational skills and expertise, and other assets specific to every business.

To those frustrated with a lack of early years support for new parents, and passionate about inspiring a better start in life for more children, there is of course an urge to want to rip-up existing approaches and create new solutions. However, it is only by connecting existing networks, skills, assets and resources and through building relationships between people, community and business – that new visions and sustainable ideas can be dreamt up. Far from lacking innovation, this sort of relationship forms the bedrock of creative imagination and stands a far better chance of lasting.

Here are some examples of where we’ve seen this work well in Home-Start’s work:

  • With the John Lewis Partnership, alongside grant funding for Home-Start work, we connected people from local John Lewis and Waitrose stores with Home-Starts to dream up ways to connect and help families. In Leicester, a volunteer recruitment campaign in shop windows was created, and in Manchester, an in-store Art Wall told inspiring stories of family bravery and resilience. Elsewhere, ambassadors were recruited, local picnics took place, and the Waitrose cookery school created an inspiring nutritional recipe for families.
  • With the gas distribution network Cadent, financial grants to 27 local Home-Starts have brought direct funding to support existing group work with families, with the simple addition of a focus at sessions on energy efficiency and safety in the home.
  • With White Stuff, we created an “Empowering Women” Grant fund to provide a funding boost for a range of diverse existing Home-Start work – including an allotment project in Slough and a coffee morning in Craven designed to provide perinatal support for women living with anxiety and low mood.
  • With BT, we’ve been donated advertising space – a luxury usually well beyond charity budgets as well as generous donations of laptops, devices, and free broadband connectivity for families to get to those facing financial hardship and digital exclusion.
  • The furniture company, Sofology, has provided sofas for numerous families in need and, in addition, staff volunteers have raised money for Home-Start and led makeovers for tired buildings. The Penny scheme that we operate with Sofology, has been developed as a simple way for customers to give their money to Home-Start when they’re making a purchase – online or at the checkout.

Ultimately, charities do of course need funds, and are always grateful where the business community can contribute. Yet, by bringing to the table a range of resources, skills and assets we can nurture strengths already present. It is through this deeper, longer-term commitment to the fabric of communities that businesses can connect their own hopes with the ongoing dreams of families. So, of all the varied ways that businesses can, and do already, support the early years, it is a focus on “what’s strong, not what’s wrong” that could inform the most radical contribution for families.