Blackpool is one of five diverse and socioeconomically disadvantaged sites (Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend) participating in a ten-year National Lottery funded programme focused on improving the life chances of babies and young children from pregnancy up to four years of age. The Big Lottery Fund has committed to investing £215million over 10 years. Four years into the programme, the Committee wanted to see how Big Lottery Fund’s strategic investment is being used locally and what lessons the programme may have for policy and practice across England.
Blackpool, according to programme’s director, is "Top of The Pops for all the things you do not want to be Top of The Pops for": poor life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, low breastfeeding rates and high levels of self-harm, substance misuse and children in care. The average reading age in Blackpool is 11. These problems are rooted in the towns’ wider social and economic conditions such as poor housing and high unemployment.
The focus of the programme in Blackpool is on reducing pressures on families from common risk factors associated with adverse experiences in childhood: drugs, alcohol, mental ill health, domestic abuse and social isolation.
What we did?
During the day the Committee:
Heard from frontline staff and parents at a local children's centre, where parents and children had been playing the Brain Game, an intervention designed to improve parents understanding of brain development.
Visited a nearby park and library, both of which were transformed with support from the local community to make them more suitable spaces for families with young children.
Held a roundtable discussion with senior leaders from across Blackpool about the local challenges and benefits the Big Lottery Fund's investment had provided. This was followed by a focus group discussions with local commissioners and voluntary sector representatives from across the country.
What we learnt?
Local councils and the NHS are operating within a financially constrained climate. Hearing from local leaders in Blackpool highlighted the value relatively small sums of money can bring by giving services the headspace to engage in transformation. The Big Lottery Fund’s investment helped:
- provide extra time, capacity and expertise to redesign local services, which Blackpool would not have otherwise had.
- foster strong partnership working between local services, made up of the local council, NHS commissioners and providers, the voluntary sector and the police.
- protect resources from being directed away from service transformation and towards the more short-term challenges in Blackpool.
The transformation of Blackpool's health visiting service is one example. Blackpool has transformed health visiting services in the town, and now provides 8 routine visits for children up to age 3 ½, rather than the nationally mandated 5, with the same funding envelope. The Big Lottery Fund investment enabled local partners to bring in external advice and support, as well as additional capacity so that local health visitors could take time out of their day jobs to engage in transformation.
During the Committee's visit to a local children's centre, the Committee heard how having a "one-stop shop" for families helped to provide seamless support and ensure professionals build relationships and share information with each other. Nevertheless, the staff emphasised that co-locating services in one place is not enough to reach all those who need support, but instead stressed the importance of reaching out into the community.
Blackpool exemplifies community engagement. Blackpool's approach makes use of existing assets across the town, drawing not only on routine services, but repurposing a range of community spaces across Blackpool, including libraries and outdoor spaces. For example, local dads from the area had helped to design a space within a local library to make the environment more suitable for parents with young children.
In the afternoon, members were joined by representatives working in councils, clinical commissioning groups and the other A Better Start sites. The discussions covered some of the common issues local commissioners face as well as views on what role the government should play in the first 1000 days. These discussions were illuminating and helped the Committee form a better understanding of common challenges facing local areas as well as form ideas about how policy and practice could be improved.
Thank you to everyone who played a part making this day possible!
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