Volunteering, co-production and parental engagement

Mum and new baby

The 91ɫƵ works with local families across the country, in both urban and rural areas, to promote parental engagement and involvement through parent forums, volunteer groups, childcare and drop-in services, children's centres, adult learning and family learning programmes.  

We have a bespoke website for parents and carers called r, and a comprehensive volunteer programme across the country, which includes a course to increase participants’  knowledge and ability to work as a volunteer in their local area.  

Your Family 

In Southend, we run the Your Family programme, a friendly community in which families meet each other for support, have access to expert and experienced teams on having and raising a child, and learn about their local community and its service. An element of this programme includes volunteers. 

Flying Start 

In Luton, we see the role of volunteers as a key part of our Flying Start programme. Volunteers bring a diverse range of skills to our team and provide the important conduit into local communities. Our co-ordinated approach of providing trained volunteers, who can deliver key public health messages and who really understand the challenges our families face, allows us to bring a more sustainable model of delivery to our services and those of our partners.  

By engaging with community groups through partnership agreements we are developing a wider network of volunteer placements and opportunities and creating a network of wider services as part of Flying Start.  

Harnessing the energy and local knowledge of volunteers is making a real difference to the lives of Luton’s families. Training for our volunteers is built on national and international evidence of the very early years of life, starting from pregnancy. 

Me and My Community 

In Lewisham, we deliver a course for volunteers called Me and My Community. This five-week course increases participants’ skills and knowledge in how to work as a volunteer in a children's centre, nursery setting or community group within their local community. 

100% of course attendees reported increased confidence in their own skills and knowledge, and 100% had increased their ability and confidence to volunteer. 

Community Conversations 

We also work with community partners to deliver the Community Conversations initiative in our centres, training parents as volunteer community researchers, and supporting them in carrying out quality assurance, mystery shopping and research activities. From this, parents have carried out a range of activities which have focused on areas such as welcome and access, communication strands, EAL, fathers, and clarity of information. 

One parent said: 

"I had a huge gap in my CV since having a baby and this meant I could add to my CV and have something relevant to say in interviews. I was given a paper describing transferable skills relating to life and work and this really helped me."

Parent Champions 

The 91ɫƵ supports the Parent Champion programme and recruits and trains parent volunteers to carry out this role within children’s centres. Part of the role of the champion is to promote the service within local communities and support families in accessing the children's centres. 

As part of the Parent Champion programme the 91ɫƵ works in partnership with Coram and the local authority to train parents, as part of the Hungry Little Minds campaign. This upskilled the Parent Champions, enabling them to share messages about home learning and speech language and communication with other families within the children’s centres and on outreach visits. 

An important part of ABSS is the role that parents play in decision-making and through co-production of services. 71 parents have been trained as Parent Champions, taking on formal roles within ABSS to ensure that parents’ views and experiences are central to the way ABSS operates, with a further 40 parents becoming Parent Ambassadors who engage with local communities to encourage new parents to get involved.  

The ABSS Engagement Fund has provided funding to launch 193 projects or activities suggested, designed and run by parents. This became particularly important during the recent Covid-10 lockdowns when parents and local community groups were able to design engaging resources and activities that could be used with children at home or in local parks and other open spaces. 

One parent told us: 

‘Being a Lead Parent Champion means I can use all the information I have gained from doing the course myself and encourage others to experience it too! It’s a great opportunity to connect with other parents and try to make a very effective difference to their lives.’ 

Roots of Empathy  

We use volunteers supported by the 91ɫƵ to deliver Roots of Empathy in primary schools in Lewisham. Roots of Empathy is an international, evidence-based classroom programme that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression amongst schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The programme helps them not only cope but thrive in these challenging times. 

The programme has reached over one million children globally and has been running in more than 35 Lewisham schools since 2012. 

Roots of Empathy research shows: 

  • 92% of teachers strongly agreed or agreed that as a result of Roots of Empathy, pupils showed more prosocial behaviour (such as sharing, helping, cooperating) by the end of the school year. – Roots of Empathy 2018 Annual Programme Evaluation. 
  • 93% of pupils reported that if they saw a friend being bullied or treated meanly, they would help them – Roots of Empathy 2019 Annual Programme Evaluation. 
  • 92% of teachers strongly agreed or agreed that as a result of Roots of Empathy, pupils are more able to understand other people’s points of view. – Roots of Empathy 2019 Annual Programme Evaluation. 

Feedback from teachers shared with us from across England: 

‘I saw a more emotional and sensitive side to the children when they interacted. Roots of Empathy has allowed them to understand it is OK to talk about sensitive topics without having a negative reaction. If they are able to express how they feel, then I am able to break down any barriers to learning.’ 

Year 5 teacher, Liverpool 


‘They are definitely more settled as a whole, especially given four changes of teacher that they have experienced over the year. They are able to use the language of Roots of Empathy more confidently and appropriately and they are able to connect what they have learned in the sessions to experiences within and outside those session.’  

Year 3 teacher, Lewisham 


‘One student who used to resort to violence now calms himself down. There have been very little physical actions of violence compared to the beginning of the year.’ 

Year 6 teacher, Southwark 


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