Tag Archives: Intergenerational

Stonehenge, Farms and Icebergs: Developing Successful Growth Strategies

I am rarely found up at 6am on a Saturday unless I am on my way back from some lively event but this Saturday I headed off to Paddington Farm for a strategy awayday. It was a glorious clear morning with a romantic frost over the Salisbury plains. Passing Stonehenge made me wonder whether our prehistoric strategists realised 3500 years ago that they were building the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain.moonrise stars Stonehenge Wiltshire England UK

The point of a strategy is to plan the action needed to ensure we meet our mission statement in a way that secures us economically.  It is a day to remind us all about the core business ( in this case educational farm holidays for people who are in need ) and what we can do to sustain and develop it.  It is quite broad in that we try to avoid drilling into how we will achieve the strategy.  We have to stick to asking ourselves over and over is this the right direction of travel.  Will this help us achieve our aim? Are we fit for purpose?

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Children’s Centres: A Way Forward

This has been an interesting week or so for the sector…

Firstly, Graham Allen MP (who spoke with such conviction about Early Intervention at our annual Margaret Horn Lecture in November) finally launched his much anticipated report at the Gherkin.

It was a room full of bankers and Early Year’s people – and I was most amused to realise that I knew quite a few of the bankers. We have been working with bankers for some time, in the hope of developing a social investment plan to extend our training programmes for young apprentices. However, the event did remind me of a wedding – the groom’s family in one corner and the bride’s in the other, with no one sure how to bridge the gap and mumblings as to whether this partnership would last (a comment also made by Graham Allen himself who recognised the challenge of developing social impact bonds).

The deputy Prime Minister, looking quite boyish, confirmed the commitment of the coalition Government to Early Years and social mobility, whilst assuring us of the need for investment in a fairer society. My only real concern here is the use of the phrase ‘school readiness’. While I know that every child has to be ready and able to succeed at school, I do hope that we also want to give children a happy childhood, because that is what so many of them are really missing.

Elsewhere this week, ACEVO invited Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, to breakfast.  Here she presided over the launch of a very special taskforce – including yours truly, amongst several other experts from across the sector.  Our task it transpired is to support the Minister in converting the government’s objectives into a coherent vision for Early Years.  Sarah Tether appears keen on the principle of co-production, a concept very familiar to us in social enterprise.  However, like most modern jargon, it’s a clumsy expression that obscures good intentions, namely to work alongside people and get their views as part of a process of contribution and mutuality.  It’s a great approach for people like me who enjoy talking and networking with colleagues.

On my return to my own lovely team, I was able to reassure them that charities such as the Children’s Society, Action for Children and Spurgeons all struggle as we do – with complex contracts and barriers to commissioning.  In the spirit of the Big Society, it seems that sharing, connecting and linking together is the future, one of which I particularly approve.

On this very subject, last week we put our own head above the parapet and urged everyone else to do the same – with the hope of ensuring that if Children’s Centres were to close, the right ones would be chosen for the right reasons, and those that were needed would remain. The response has been heartening, particularly from parents and those professionals who really believe in finding the means of supporting children from poor and vulnerable families. Sadly, there are still too many people working in the world of children and families who have remained ominously silent.

Nonetheless, it would appear that our long-held belief that Children’s Centres should be intergenerational is finally gaining support. We are now working with Gulbekian and the lovely Beth Johnson Foundation to start testing our model.  We hope that once we begin to articulate a specific and successful approach, more people will believe as we do, that this is the way forward for us all.  This certainly fits with the notion of Big Society, and so has the backing of many senior Government ministers and Lords of the Realm.

We must remember that an intergenerational approach is more about attitude than the simple idea of having a building where older and younger people have services; to be truly intergenerational means to engage and form relationships across the generations, which in itself is not just about the very old and the very young but every generation in-between.

With this in mind, I invite you all to devour, discuss and share our ‘Ten Steps to a Sustainable, Intergenerational Children Centre’, part of our broader review of recent research relating to the current situation, ‘Children’s Centres: A Way Forward’.  As always, I welcome comments, challenges – and more ideas!

Instead of shimmering with the particular energy of disaffection (Alexander Pope), let’s take last week’s call to arms and convert this critical debate into positive action.

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A Call to Arms: Save Our Children’s Centres

We are already halfway through January, having returned from a long break to the order and pattern that work gives us. We have cheerily greeted everyone with a Happy New Year, but will it be?

As an optimistic person, I try to see challenges as opportunities, although at times this takes a huge leap of imagination and positive energy.  This is especially true now, with the doom and gloom harbingers out in force.  Of course, the press itself is less than helpful, setting the seeds for dissatisfaction and disorder; but in doing so, the more important issues all too easily risk being crowded out by a sense of general dismay.

But where to begin?  Without a doubt, saving Children’s Centres… Already this month, I have received impassioned telephone calls and frustrated emails from people about their local authorities not only halving Children’s Centres, but with limited consultation and no apparent plan.

I visited a small Centre in West London myself this week, only to then hear they were to be closed.  This particular school-based site had the complete support of both parents and head-teacher, and the team itself was coherent and robust about the benefits to local families.  They were equally realistic about the need to shift some ways of working and extend their services out.  Cuts aside, I simply cannot believe that local authorities are unable to afford an investment of £100k per annum in their multi-million pound budget (surely little more than the salary for one over-inflated management post).

Elsewhere, I attended the inaugural Home Start Lecture, where Professor Michael Marmot spoke about health inequalities and the investment needed to secure a more Fair Society, Healthy Lives for children. I asked the panel’s designated Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, why in the light of all the evidence for preventative and community based services, Children Centres were closing. He simply fudged the issue by reasserting the Government position, namely how they were champions of Children Centres, but it was down to local authorities to make the decisions.

I thought of a recent book I read called Nudge and wondered how we might get the Government to give a nudge.  It’s true, we don’t want another micro-managing government (our last experience of this was unhelpful enough), but now baby and bathwater come to mind. In the meantime, Children Centres are closing and the consequences will come back to haunt us.  Will we ever learn?

Our colleauges over at 4Children made a great start last year with their Shout Out campaign, but I personally believe the time has come for us to finally wake up and actually do something about this emerging catastrophe for children and families, especially across the capital. We need to mobilise ourselves and take action as a determined network of passionate and committed Children Centre professionals.

It’s true that some Children’s Centres are better than others and some will have to go.  But that doesn’t mean reduced budgets cannot be resolved in a way that is planned, purposeful and sensitive to local communities.  Slash and burn is too random (and lazy) an approach.  As the picture of cuts continues to take shape, it seems incumbent on us to hatch a much-needed plan for survival, sustainability and reshaping; and one finally based around an intergenerational model.  We need to snatch the Children’s Centre baton and lead the process ourselves.

The time for talk may well be over, but please do comment and tweet us!  This is more than a nudge; this is a call to arms.

Sing a song of sixpence

The year is once again fast drawing to a close. Each one seems to go by faster and faster; and this one especially was twelve months at quick march time. Still, there does appear to be a modicum of calm about this Christmas and the full horrors of commercialisation does not feel quite so overpowering somehow, I am relieved to say.

Our nurseries start their Christmas preparations in December (and not a day before), and so the festivities are now very much in full swing. Dress rehearsals for festive plays are round every corner, and Father Christmas is very busy popping up all over the place.

Some nurseries have also visited local homes for the elderly to sing Christmas songs with them. I hope that from now on this will be a core feature of our Christmas plan at LEYF, since those who have done so say the shared delight across the generations was lovely to behold and very uplifting. Surely, that is what the spirit of Christmas is all about; a reaching out to others, a time to think about how we weave a better and more connected society. Ubuntu time.

This year we have also started working with War Child, a small international charity set up to support children devastated by war. Three LEYF staff used their annual leave to volunteer in Uganda (the safest of the War Child countries) where they helped to develop a play based teaching plan. Shocked by the real trauma suffered, but inspired by the warmth, resilience and capability of the children, we have promised to do more.

As a very small start, this Christmas we have asked staff and parents to donate the cost of one present to War Child. I hope it works. For more on this and to make a small donation yourself, I implore you to read more by clicking here.

The year ends with the promise of more economic challenges, public sector cuts and rising unemployment, accompanied by tax rises and inflation. It’s not a joyful proposition. Still, despite all of this, opportunities do exist and we continue to explore better ways of supporting more children.

One way for us to do this would be as more people consider the LEYF model; this way we may finally see our intergenerational centre ideas accepted and perhaps also be able to expand our apprenticeship programmes. We are certainly working very hard to get people to listen. We are making stronger partnerships with like-minded organisations, and our project to measure our impact is progressing well, held up only by the slow completion of questionnaires (some things never change).

When I was a child I was often told I was a bold girl, it’s an Irish term for defiance. Goethe said that boldness had genius, power and magic in it. To overcome the challenges of 2011, I strongly believe that we must concoct our own version of boldness – and maybe sprinkle it with a little LEYF magic from our children, parents, staff, apprentices and supporters. It’s likely to be quite a spirited brew!

So, with thanks to everyone that has listened, read, acted and supported us over the past year – not least of all our own staff – may I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

The Social Enterprise Tea Party

This week I overheard a member of staff commenting on my blog.  She had just begun to read it and was surprised at just how much it told her about what I do; about my efforts to ensure what we do at LEYF influences the world of childcare and so helps to build a better future for children everywhere.

Later in the week we had a staff forum where they made a similar observation, so I thought I would use this week’s blog to sum up our plans for franchising our model; to give some idea of what it might be like if we could successfully scale up and replicate what we do here at LEYF elsewhere. It fits into a particularly busy week of submitting tenders for nurseries, training services and strategic alliances – another means of getting a place at the table. Not surprisingly, I feel like Alice trying to get an invite to the Mad Hatters Tea Party, so we can have a turn to say our piece.

Tea Party at LEYF's Ford Road Children Centre Nursery

On the subject of teaan occasion which should, in my humble opinion, be a compulsory 4 o’clock occurrence – it featured quite a few times this week, including a spontaneous invite to share tea at the House of Lords following my outburst at the APPG on Sure Start.

On this occasion, I was provoked by the number of people whinging and complaining about government changes rather than trying to find a solution. It’s all very well saying how everything was wonderful in the past – a fact both inaccurate and irritating, which then just limits any kind of solution-focused approach and so raises my blood pressure!  For my part, I presented the option of a social enterprise Children’s Centre in my usual, outspoken way.  This naturally resulted in a range of responses – including eyes rolling, amusement, attention, clapping and the aforementioned invitation. I avoided any caustic comments by using the time to network with the great and good.

So, given that many of our own staff are beginning to read the blog, below is what I believe a LEYF franchise may mean in ten years time:

  • Social enterprise nurseries are now considered the first and natural choice for all parents; they are recognised as having a critical role to play not only in providing the best childcare but also in supporting and connecting families in the local community;
  • The design of a specifically social enterprise curriculum ensures social capital for all children;
  • Social enterprise nurseries are founded on a principle of supporting and taking care of a child’s wider abilities, leading to a growing sense of social responsibility and a readiness to act; in so doing establishing a greater degree solidarity and tolerance;
  • A quality mark exists to help parents clearly identify a social enterprise nursery in a crowded market; the mark is also a form of quality assurance, making sure the values of social enterprise are embedded and implemented to the full;
  • Social enterprise childcare has become the leading example of best practice across the sector and so a symbol of quality for all children; no longer locked within such a limiting concept as so often bestowed on PVIs of being simply ‘good enough for the poor and disadvantaged’;
  • Social enterprise childcare is now a recognised sector in itself, a real influence on corporate direction, part of corporate management programmes and considered critical to corporate social responsibility;
  • The social enterprise childcare sector has become a leading driver for change in public services;
  • Clear means of measuring and assessing the associated benefits of a social enterprise approach to childcare have been established and are now widely recognised within ‘value-added’ qualities or transitions, such as improved well-being, employability and active citizenship;
  • A strong social enterprise childcare network now exists with the weight and purpose to shape and change both Early Years policy and community regeneration, along with development and contractual procurement on a local, regional, national and international scale;
  • Links between social enterprise childcare services and the reduction of child poverty are clear, with a direct and measurable contribution to reducing the 3.9 million children living in poverty, with all the attendant health costs as they become adults;
  • An intergenerational approach to everything is explicitly embedded in the social enterprise childcare model, recognising that sometimes the younger generation is best placed to deal with issues challenging their community such as drugs, disadvantage, poverty and race.

Does the above sound like a dream to you – or a nightmare?  Let me know what you think or how you see the future of social enterprise or childcare.  Simply rate or comment on this post below and share with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook or email using the usual, handy links!

Ideas to make your head spin in Bethnal Green

I have had the most interesting week. Despite the weather and incompetent overground trains trying to keep me at home, the 209 bus and Piccadilly line ensured the commute from west London, although longer, was possible.  So hear hear for them.

Two activities spurred me on: a useful visit from a local politician with whom I could talk local community action, then two days at the School for Social Entrepreneurs exploring the intricacies of social franchise.

At LEYF we have been developing a means of franchising our social enterprise childcare model for the past year. Working with an academic partnership we have begun to codify the model and the processes. It’s no small challenge, since codifying a philosophy in a way that tells a clear story and has the right processes in place is much more complex than it first seems. The opportunities provided by the SSE to hear from commercial franchisors as well as the benefit of Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation proved sufficiently challenging to make my head spin.

In this climate, organisations can take two paths: one to keep small and lean, the other to grow, scale up or replicate the model.  Franchising is a good way to do the latter; and despite the doom and gloom, a well organised, canny social enterprise operator should be honing all their entrepreneurial skills to make the most of any opportunity. Indeed, we may never get these chances again.

For those of us in the world of childcare, now more than ever before, we have a real duty to do something.  Children from poorer backgrounds will be the losers in the current re-shifting of priorities, one of many clear points made in the recent Frank Field Report.

To this end, the franchise option seems to play out in three ways: the product, in our case community and Children Centre nurseries; the service we provide, and the way we do things.

At LEYF I hope to use this opportunity to hammer home what we have been saying for a long while, namely that intergenerational children’s centres are the way forward, nurseries need to be community based and socially enterprising approaches have a part to play in the nursery market place.

My week finished on an uplifting note: a cup of tea with a friend who is trying to stay positive in Tower Hamlets, followed by a fundraising carol concert for the wonderful charity Rainbow Trust, which supports children who have life threatening illnesses. The voices of the young choristers in Urban Voices rang out and uplifted us with their enthusiasm and optimism.  On a cold Friday night it was simply the icing on the cake.

Let’s stave off a tsunami of social disaster

Our 4th Annual Margaret Horn Lecture last Thursday evening went off with a bang. We were oversubscribed which raised the thorny question of health and safety and how many people can be fitted in a room.  Fortunately, the LEYF staff were all willing to stand in the aisles – capacity for which was also limited!

Our choice of speaker in Graham Allen MP was prompted by our belief that we have to do something active to get it right for children. In the words of Marge Piercy, we really believe that children are everyone’s business; they are our heirs and our future. And I would like to think this fairly reflects the beliefs of Margaret Horn herself. So Graham certainly drew the crowds; and as a satisfied parent of our own Bessborough community nursery, he was a great advert for parent loyalty!

Whilst Graham’s understated style belied some of his message, he did warn that a tsunami of social disaster was waiting to befall us if we didn’t act now – in the face of a growing underclass, both excluded from society and with no reason to engage in this new big society. He then pleased me endlessly by reaffirming the importance of intergenerational approaches to everything we do – something I have advocated for a very long time and which should be the central philosophy of all Children’s Centres.

The audience, among which a good number of local authorities, were remarkably sanguine as the lecture unravelled the possible implication of the cuts – many of which seem unnecessarily savage and don’t align either with government suggested financial targets, nor the idea of a Big Society.  It’s something that surprised many of us – not least a certain Polly Toynbee, who was aghast at the apparent mood of submission so ripe in the air. In all fairness, mind you, local authority officers are effectively gagged while they await their own fate.

Graham Allen thinks that one way we can address the costs of early intervention is by getting banks ,venture capitalists and philanthropists – yes, all in the same sentence – to create social impact bonds.  He tells us bonds could be anything we want them to be (although he rejected my call that they be James). In fact, only last year Dame Clare Tickell gave us our lecture, during which she reflected on the Action for Children and New Economics Foundation report Backing the Future which costed out social bonds. Let’s see if Graham Allen can get that money out of the banks; maybe we could give them some positive PR in return and charge accordingly.

For some time now, we have been told that measuring impact is critical in all this; to clearly show everyone what social return they will get on their investment, whether its from the fees they pay or donations. For our part, earlier this year we employed a company called PVC to help us measure what we do.  Karim Javeri gave a summary of progress so far, noting that what has been most interesting was the value to parents of simply attending nursery.

One final thread to com out of the debate was that of the new jargon in certain circles: scaling up and replication. At LEYF we have been investigating if our own approach might be socially franchised across the country, giving local authorities a model they can put to good use when it comes to early intervention, especially in poor neighbourhoods. Maybe now Chris White MP has managed to get the Social Enterprise Bill through the House of Commons, we will have more chance.

As I stated from day one, this blog exists fundamentally to provoke a response. So let’s prove the critics wrong. Let’s show that actually we do still have sufficient passion to challenge stupid ideas; we do have enough energy to keep rejecting limited policies and ineffective decisions. Let’s make sure this new Coalition understands what is really needed if we are to carry on putting the child at the centre. After all the future is in their hands.

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Welcome and please join us, as we boldly go…

After much debate, discussion and procrastination, we have finally dipped our toes into the wild world of online conversations, otherwise know as the blogosphere – and hey… isn’t it exciting!

At its heart, our blog hopes to echo the current government’s view of a Big Society, namely that we are all in this together.  For us, that means having conversations with everyone who values the true importance of children in that society.  We want to use our blog to have a big conversation about what needs to be done if we are to make it right for children; we want to hear ideas and action that can make life better for us all.  We firmly believe that when you wrap everything around the child things really do get better. It’s the basis of our call for intergenerational services – especially Children’s Centres, which are the most natural hub of any neighbourhood and so should be where all kinds of intergenerational activity, starting with the youngest child, take place.

A metaphor for this site can be summed up by the experiences of three LEYF staff who recently put their annual leave to incredible use, by heading off to Uganda to see how we might work together with War Child. Overwhelmed with the human tragedy of living a whole childhood surrounded by conflict, but heartened by the palpable joie de vivre around them, they quickly found their place and value; introducing play-based learning to the community’s very willing and interested Ugandan Early Years teachers, many of whom care for up to 200 children a day, children that have never learned how to play. It’s no doubt somewhat clichéd, but the staff came back humbled, having already begun to complain a little less and take a little more action. In some ways, they formed a vision of one small part in this Big Society.

As the individual charged with inspiring debate on this new, hi-tech platform, I look forward to raising the voice of the child, helping to place it in this new world of community responsibility. Rather well-known for speaking my mind, I hope to provoke fresh thinking, particularly from those who work with children in nurseries and who are passionate as I am.

So talk to us, use the power of social networking to share your views and provide solutions.  Let’s blog a positive, upbeat and constructive message; let’s celebrate our many successes and take action to improve and overcome the challenges. Let’s be in this together.