Community groups at the heart of HeadStart - HeadStart student Dragons evaluate Phase 2 Community projects

HeadStart Wolverhampton has always placed young people at the centre of decision-making about how programmes should be structured, and, critically, about how funding within the city should be distributed.

Back in December 2014, our HeadStart Student Partnership board - our 'Dragons' - reviewed bids from 38 Wolverhampton voluntary and community projects for financial support as part of Phase 2 of Big Lottery funding. Working alongside education and mental health professionals, the young people carefully evaluated each bid before making decisions on which projects to fund, and how much money to allocate to each.

On Tuesday 24th November 2015, representatives from the voluntary and community groups returned to face the young Dragons again. In a series of presentations and question / answer sessions at The Workspace, they shared outcomes, stories and testimonies from their funded projects; the positives and negatives, the grand successes, and the learning and adaptation that followed feedback from young people.

40% of HeadStart funding in Wolverhampton so far has been allocated to community and voluntary work

Before the presentations, the chair of the HeadStart partnership board, councillor Viv Griffin, fielded questions from young people, teachers and professionals about current progress and future HeadStart plans. Viv observed that, in Phase 2, 40% of HeadStart funding in Wolverhampton had been allocated to community and voluntary work, with work with schools and health services making up the remainder. She emphasized repeatedly that work with voluntary and community groups will be at the heart of HeadStart Wolverhampton's Phase 3 bid for further Big Lottery funding.

Voluntary organisations were also introduced to the next steps in evaluating their projects by Karl Royle from the University of Wolverhampton. Karl and his team will be carrying out a formal evaluation of community projects over the next two months. They will be interviewing project leaders and key workers, and asking them to reflect on the 'Main Significant Change' for young people or families who have participated in their projects. This evaluation process by the University mirrors the evaluation which has just been carried out on HeadStart programmes in schools. Read all about that evaluation here.

The Presentations

Many presenters engaged the audience with interactive activities to illustrate their projects. Many also shared video materials, testimonies, and examples of creative work from young people.

Some common themes emerged from the presentations:

  • Voluntary groups need to work and communicate more closely with one another to understand neighbouring projects and support organisations. This will allow them to refer young people between programmes, so that they can match provision to their needs and interests.
  • Building trusting, non-judgemental, relationships with parents is critical. Many of the issues experienced by young people have their roots at home in negative relationships.

All of the community groups faced challenging, sometimes robust(!) questioning from the young Dragons, questions such as:

  • What have you learned?
  • What was the most positive impact of the project?
  • How was the funding spent within the project?
  • How would you like to expand or improve your services if further funding became available?

As the presentations progressed, the students recorded their comments, criticisms, thoughts, observations and questions about each project. Their rigorous, thoughtful feedback will form part of the ongoing evaluation of the community projects they helped to commission, and will directly inform our Phase 3 bid.

It was very clear during the day that HeadStart is not one story; it's a tapestry of interweaving stories in our communities, improving the life chances of young people. Projects had different aims, and targeted different groups of young people or their families, but were united by a passion to make things better for young people in our city.

To give you a flavour of each of the projects that were presented back to The Dragons, here is a brief outline of each presentation.

Girls Can Do - Changing Lives

'Girls Can Do', a project from Changing Lives, works with young girls who have been through traumatic experiences in their lives. The girls participated in a range of counselling and practical activities, including 1-to-1 consultations, group discussions, art activities, visits, role-playing and drama. They were supported in engaging with issues that they had identified anonymously as being highly relevant to them, including abusive relationships, eSafety issues, bullying, and family breakdown.

Parenting doesn’t come with a manual

Project leader Heidi was joined in her presentation by Katelin, one of the girls involved in the project. Katelin confidently shared experiences and artwork from the project.

High Five Parental Engagement - Re-Entry

Fran from Re-Entry shared details of their wonderful Parental Engagement project. Re-Entry works with young people who, for a range of reasons, are not in full-time schooling. Their project worked with parents to build confidence and to support one another. Many parents of young people at Re-Entry can feel isolated from support networks, and the project succeeded in bringing them together as they struggled to help their children back into schooling, and to improve relationships at home.

Art Break Festival - EYES

Darren from EYES shared the success of Art Break festival. Young people participated in dance, drama, and film-making workshops, before sharing their performances and media work in a one-day arts festival in the city centre in early September. This had a dramatic effect on the self-confidence and self-worth of many of the young people involved.

Parents have contacted us through social networks to say “You’ve had such a positive effect on my child”

Darren shared how parents had contacted EYES through social media to describe the really positive impact that the project had on their children.

The quietest young person in the room became the noisiest person.

Base Satellite - Base 25

Our HeadStarters aren’t just ‘engaged’ they are in the driving seat! Challenging the providers they funded as our ‘Dragons’
— Kevin Pace

Jason and Brian from Base 25 shared their Base Satellite project. Base 25 is a youth support facility in Wolverhampton City Centre, but with the Base Satellite project, this transformed into a drop-in support service for schools.

Young people visited Base Satellite drop-ins before the start of school days to share their personal stories and experiences in non-judgemental discussion sessions. Over 300 young people had engaged though individual sessions, and over 250 in additional transition workshops around resilience.

Creative Parents Support Group - Improving Futures

Mandy Smith from Improving Futures gave details of their Creative Parents Support Group project, which worked with families to support creative, shared play, building more positive relationships between parents and children. Interestingly, she explained how the project had changed dramatically early on.

Parents needed “permission to play”. Shared play is so powerful.

The original proposal had been to work solely with parents, but Improving Futures, reacting to feedback, brought whole families into the process. Mandy shared the positive feedback they had received from children and their parents, including examples of long-term transformation in family relationships.

Making it Better - LGBT Youth Group by X2Y

Ruth, from X2Y gave us details about their work supporting LGBT youngsters, their peers, and schools. They supported young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and those with uncertainties about their sexuality or sexual feelings. Ruth also shared their progress in training key staff in schools to understand issues of coming out, discrimination, and homophobic bullying

There are still over 70 countries in world where homosexuality is illegal. Many of these still have the death penalty in place.

X2Y negotiated partnerships with schools to proactively integrate LGBT awareness and acceptance into their curriculum and everyday practice. The project is still ongoing now; a new phase of work in schools has just begun. 

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A Place to Be Me - The Gazebo Theatre

Tonya from The Gazebo Theatre told us, in her own delightfully unique and enthusiastic style, about 'A Place To Be Me', a community grass roots project which gave young people a place to engage in a range of creative activities: drama, singing, acting, music and dance.

I am me and when I am at ‘A Place To Be Me’ I am more me

Tonya shared a great film of interviews with young people from the project: "I just feel happy here. When I'm me, I can feel how I want to feel. When I'm at the project, I am more me".

Young people were also encouraged to engage beyond the project; for example by contributing to a cookbook, or working to support Bilston in Bloom.

You need to do so much work to reach the hardest to reach.

The Superhero Within - The Gazebo Theatre

"The Superhero Within" is a play, scripted and performed in 22 schools and other community organisations, which explores issues of resilience ('bounce-back-ability'), self confidence, and peer relationships in an amusing, engaging way.

Pamela from Gazebo shared footage of the play, and information on the positive impact and feedback from those that had enjoyed performances.

Our community groups have spoken. HeadStart matters. HeadStart is changing lives. The voluntary sector are at the heart of our current work, and our future plans.