Community engagement has always been at the heart of Better Start Bradford. Everything we deliver is for the community and has been developed with our local community. So, it made perfect sense to ensure that we had community workers based within each area that we serve in Bradford. Therefore, our Neighbourhood Project was born.
By the end of 2019, we had recruited our Neighbourhood Engagement Workers who work closely with our Family and Community Engagement Team (FACE Team). Fozia, based at The Karmand Centre; Jenny, based at BD4 Family and Melissa, based at The Thornbury Centre. Between them they cover the Better Start Bradford areas of Bowling and Barkerend, Bradford Moor and Little Horton.
When our Neighbourhood Engagement Workers started, little did they know a few months down the line they would be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic causing our whole country to lockdown, meaning getting out and about face to face in the neighbourhood was going to be quite challenging. However, the team was certainly not going to let COVID-19 stop their work!
In this blog we found out exactly how our Neighbourhood Engagement Workers have responded to COVID-19 and what local families can look forward to when things get back to normal.
Neighbourhood working in a pandemic!
Before COVID-19 struck, the Neighbourhood Engagement Workers had been very busy getting to know local families in their areas and setting up things like parent and toddler coffee mornings, taking grandparents on trips to the Industrial Museum, running First Friends Baby Groups and delivering Rhyme Time and Story sessions with lots of face-to-face contact.
Through such sessions, they got to know families and their situations and any challenges that they may be facing, which in turn enabled the Neighbourhood Engagement Workers to support them, refer into Better Start Bradford projects and any other services that may be of use to them.
They all provide a very holistic approach by offering enhanced support as outlined in this blog. This kind of support has been invaluable to local families and has given some a lifeline in a period of time when outside contact has been so limited.
Fozia, who is based at the Karmand Centre, developed such a rapport with the parents from her parent and toddler coffee mornings that they successfully applied for Better Start Bradford’s Parents in the Lead Activities Fund funding to run Music Mayhem sessions. Unfortunately, COVID-19 meant that these had to be placed on hold, but after successfully running a Zoom session during Baby Week 2020, Fozia has decided to deliver these online. She said: “The Baby Week session was so successful that we decided to take Music Mayhem online. We will be encouraging parents and their babies and toddlers to get their pots, pans and wooden spoons out and make shakers out of household items to make as much noise as possible!”
Before the first lockdown, Fozia decided to take the elderly daycare group at the centre to the Industrial Museum. She said: “It was great to show grandparents from different cultures how they could bond with their grandchildren. The museum brought back so many memories for them and they really wanted to take their grandchildren there. Through developing this trusted relationship many of them now want to do the Older Yet Wiser grandparenting workshops once we can meet face to face again.”
While COVID-19 has had a major impact on face-to-face work, Fozia also feels that the pandemic has helped her to build relationships with local families in a different way. She said: “I have been contacting parents by phone, email and WhatsApp and have been able to provide really personal, tailored support to all of them. I have been able to refer many parents into Better Start Bradford projects such as Incredible Years, HENRY, Forest Schools and Better Start Imagine.”
“We have also managed to get funding from Bradford Council to provide much needed tablets to local families who have no such equipment, so that they can access online activities.”
“In the first lockdown, I created a little booklet containing creative arts and craft activities to help children stay engaged and stimulated at home - this was so challenging for parents at that time. All activities involved household waster such as toilet rolls, milk cartons, tissue boxes etc. so didn't cost a penny - I got such lovely feedback from families.
"I was also able to deliver the Better Start Bradford winter well-being activity packs to 50 families and the mums said their children really enjoyed the activities and the massage ball was amazing! I find being a Neighbourhood Engagement Worker so rewarding. It is a joy to be able to help and support people especially through these very challenging times.”
Melissa had already established coffee mornings with rhyme time and story sessions before lockdown began at the Thornbury Centre. The sessions were proving very popular, with participating parents telling friends and neighbours about them.
Melissa said: “We had run seven sessions before lockdown, and you got a real sense from the parents that they were so pleased to have me to help in the local area.”
“I am so passionate about what I do and felt a little down in the dumpswhen lockdown started so early in our role. It was so frustrating that everything came to a standstill. I started to think about how I could engage with new families and found it became a lot about not ‘what you know’ but ‘who you know’! I tapped into ex-colleagues, local community organisations and networks and started building relationships which widened my network of contacts and those that could refer families to me to support.”
“I started contacting new families and building up trust with them and I currently work with 79 mums. I know from personal experience how isolating being a young mum on your own is. I check in with each of them regularly, keep them up to date on the latest COVID-19 regulations and support them with any issues that they may have as a family. I have referred many into Better Start Bradford projects such as HENRY groups, Perinatal Support Service, Breastfeeding Support and online activities.”
“I supported a single Eastern European mum two children under four and three over four. Her family life was quite erratic as the older siblings’ behaviour was causing issues, with the younger ones craving attention.”
“We talked about establishing routines and one-to-one time. I introduced them to the Dance Motivation online classes on a Saturday morning, funded through Parents in the Lead Activities Fund. Even the older children join in the sessions and it has really brought them together as a family.”
“I have also put together a massive ‘signposting’ folder full of organisations and training that can help with budgeting, universal credit, social prescribing and building resilience within the family. I have also delivered an energy project trying to help people to save a little bit of money on gas and electricity to buy things that they have not been able to. Simple things like behaviour changes in the home, understanding bills and seeing if they are eligible for the Warm Homes Discount.”
“We also provided a tablet to a toddler aged two with Downs Syndrome to help develop his vocabulary. He had been attending the Better Start Imagine sessions at the local library. With the help of an educational app on the tablet his language has improved which is so rewarding to hear. ”
“I have also provided practical support to families by organising food parcels, baby food, baby clothes, equipment and even furniture for one of the families.”
Melissa also became a grandma at the beginning of lockdown. She said: “My grandson was born six weeks early and it was a really scary time for my daughter to be having a baby at this time. But he is perfectly healthy and has filled a ‘hole’ I didn’t even know was there! It makes working for Better Start Bradford and all the messaging we are giving around development in 0-3’s more meaningful – I just look at him and take him in and think wow!”
Mum of two, Jenny, is based at BD4 Family and hasn’t let COVID-19 stop her from getting out and about in the community. From delivering food parcels and Better Start Activity packs, to socially distanced door knocking and delivering virtual HENRY sessions she’s been really busy, but still has plenty of ideas on what she wants to do once things back to normal.
Jenny said: “I felt at the beginning of lockdown it was really important for local families to know that they were not alone and that there was support out there. So, I decided to do some socially distanced doorstep work with BD4 Family volunteer Tahire. Armed with our Better Start Bradford packs and wearing our Better Start Bradford hoodies we started knocking on doors.”
“It can be a really tricky approach because people are wary and can be reluctant to open the door, especially in the middle of a pandemic, unless it’s a delivery person! However, when some of them saw the Better Start Bradford logo it sparked conversations as it felt familiar to them. They were really surprised at all the help that they could access when I started chatting about Better Start Bradford and BD4 Family.”
“I’m also a trained HENRY practitioner, so I was able to deliver the course online. I was a bit nervous at first about doing it online as it had to be adapted and condensed down as the games we normally do together had to be removed as they only worked face-to-face. However, it was a really positive experience and some of the participants who were quiet at first were really animated by the end. One mum, who had been really quiet told us all how she had been trying everything at home that we had gone through online and it had been so useful, that was really wonderful to hear. Once things return to normal, we have made a pact to meet up together in person.”
As with all the Neighbourhood Engagement Workers, Jenny has kept in regular touch with her local families over the phone. She said: “I have a group of parents that I regularly make contact with, I check that they are feeling okay, whether they have enough food, whether they need help with shopping or simply want someone to chat to – sometimes just having another adult to talk to can make the difference in someone’s life with young children.”
When the rules relaxed over summer, Jenny set up a safe activity bubbles so that families could meet safely face-to-face at local parks and at BD4 Family. She is already making plans for a new parent and baby group called Around the World Afternoon Tea for when things return to normal.
She said: “Before lockdown, we ran two family groups called First Friends and Culture Comforts and the new group has been borne from them really. We want to bring together mums, dads and families from different cultures who have had babies through lockdown. At each session, we will learn about a different culture and eat food from that culture. It will be based at the Bowling Park Lodge and will be free so watch this space!”