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Happy New Year – I think we’re all ready to see the back of the last one and genuinely hope for a healthier and happier 2021.

2020 was not what any of us thought it might be, and whilst it has brought sadness and challenges we never imagined would happen in our lifetime, the Better Start Bradford team, projects and families have adapted to new ways of working and supporting families. There is so much to be proud of and excited about.

I’m particularly proud of the virtual antenatal classes that we developed early in the initial lockdown to fill an evident gap for pregnant women. The classes have been developed and delivered in partnership with Midwifery and colleagues in Breastfeeding Support and Health Visiting, and have been significantly shaped by the expectant families who have taken part.

Several of our projects supporting pregnant women and their families have seen increased referrals and take up during the year and we’re really happy to see ESOL for Pregnancy supporting a greater number of women helping them to communicate more effectively at this time.

Our Family and Community Engagement team and Neighbourhoods Project have continued to engage with families in the Better Start Bradford area and the wide range of organisations supporting them. As a result of this work family activity packs were developed and delivered in the summer, and winter wellbeing packs have been distributed to local families in the run up to Christmas.

In April we reached the milestone of five years of delivery of Better Start Bradford, the halfway point of the programme. We were unable to mark this in any of the ways we had planned, but have shared lots of the stories from our Better Start Bradford community throughout the year, highlighting the difference many of our projects make in the lives of both families and volunteers.

As well as continuing project delivery, we also adapted workforce development opportunities to the digital world and have held several popular webinars on a range of subjects with speakers and attendees from near and far. We also launched our first ever podcast featuring Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, where together we explored how the earliest years of life give us the tools we use to navigate the challenges of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

The Better Start Bradford team have all been able to work from home during the pandemic and whilst this has enabled us to continue much of our work, we really miss seeing each other regularly and have spent much more time working and meeting via our laptop screens. We encouraged staff to take a break from screens for their wellbeing and provided some introductory yoga classes to help us all to focus on our physical and mental health. I have also prioritised getting outside everyday for a walk or run, and encourage other people to do the same. Having a dog really helps to motivate me to do this especially when it’s raining, but I’m aware it’s key to my mental wellbeing, which I’ve realised the importance of during this time.

Getting outdoors has been a blessing for so many of us this year and the work on the Better Place sites has continued to create safer and healthier places for young children to play and grow. I’ve been delighted to see the progress of the work including the transformation of Kettlewell Snicket, pocket parks at Mayfield and Woodroyd, The Roughs sculpture trail at Bowling Park and the natural play area at Horton Park and loved to hear feedback from families about the opportunities these are supporting for their children. Plans are well underway for the remaining capital sites so keep your eyes peeled in the Better Start Bradford area for the developments and for lots of opportunities to enjoy our outside spaces.

The capital improvements in the area will be one aspect of the legacy of the Better Start Programme. 2020 has also seen some of the Better Start Bradford projects receive funding via the CCG to increase the area they deliver to, increasing the number of families who can benefit. The projects which were funded by the Innovation Fund have also been progressing during the year and we’re excited to be working with them in the coming year.

We still face much uncertainty as we enter the new year, but have hope in the form of the vaccine roll out and the resilience that has been demonstrated by so many that we will continue to make a positive difference. Recognising the challenges faced by our families has led us to focus our next Parents in the Lead round on well-being which will launch early in 2021. I’m also hopeful that we will take the positives from the last year to ensure our programme continues to provide high quality opportunities for the community to focus on its youngest members and the importance of ensuring the foundations of every aspect of their lives.

There are few who have been able to sum up the importance of children as well as Nelson Mandela. The quotes below help to sum up for me why I have worked with children and their families for my entire career and the ambition of Better Start for our parents, community, District and beyond:

“Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation.”

“Few things make the life of a parent more rewarding and sweet as successful children”

Alex Spragg, Programme Director, Better Start Bradford