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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

An investment to last a lifetime: The Five Early Years Social Action Fund grantees

There’s an increasing body of evidence that points to the critical importance of early years development in influencing people’s later life chances. The right investment and support early in life can have a transformative impact on employment, education, and active citizenship.  

From a policy perspective, a pound wisely spent in early years will have a greater impact than a pound spent years later. What’s more, parental involvement in children’s learning and education has the strongest and clearest evidence base to effect children’s attainment, over and above that of parents expectations, parenting style or even the child’s own attitudes, motivation or self efficacy.

Given this evidence, one would think that accessing parenting courses beyond antenatal care would be an established norm. Yet stigma exists for many people in accessing parenting support. Some families feel it might only be for troubled parents. Others are weary of being judged, or feeling inadequate.  

There is a clear role, then, for programmes to both enable parents to build knowledge, skills and confidence in supporting young children AND for these programmes to be held in a non-judgemental, supportive setting. This is exactly where social action and volunteering has a clear role to play.  

We know that when volunteers work alongside public services, they can achieve great things

For example, peer support can help people feel more knowledgeable and confident in supporting their children. Equally, a volunteer in a community setting can help inform new parents about - and accompany them to -public services, that help the parents and their children.  

It was this combined insight, knowing of the value for society of early intervention, coupled with the need for more evidence-based programmes to reach families that professional services struggle to, that spurred Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to launch the Early Years Social Action Fund.  

We are delighted, therefore, to announce the five organisations who we will be supporting through the fund, so their promising early years parenting programmes can reach many more families. Together, these organisations will reach over 4,000 more families across England over a two year period and mobilise close to 1,500 volunteers.

All these organisations are offering a promising approach at present, but need support to scale. This fund will provide that support. Through the fund, we will also strengthen the evidence base we have about the impact volunteers make in supporting parents, so their children have the best possible start in life. In my humble opinion, it may well be one of the best investments Nesta ever makes*.

Meet the Early Years Social Action Fund grantees:

Parents and Communities Together, led by Citizens UK:

The aim of Parents and Communities Together (PACT) is to improve the health and developmental outcomes of infants, by bringing the methods of community organisation to the challenges of early intervention. PACT is co-designed with parents, community leaders, universal maternity services, researchers and psychologists and currently operates in London Borough of Southwark.

Through this fund, Citizens UK will deepen their evidence base and expand provision of key components of PACT: Mums and Dads Space groups, parent champions (who connect parents with local services and support),and book sharing clubs. Citizens UK will expanding their existing presence in Southwark and grow to three further areas beyond London, mobilising over 250 new volunteers and supporting over 900 more families. Citizens UK is receiving a grant of £205,000.

The Parent Child Home Program, led by Family Lives:

The Parent Child Home Program (PCHP) is a proven targeted intervention focusing on those with greatest need. The PHCP model involves two years of intensive home-visiting with children aged 16 months to four years , with trained specialists giving parents the tools, skills and encouragement to engage positively with their children.

PCHP is a licensed model originating in the United States. This fund will support Family Lives, a national family support charity, to introduce PCHP to at least six England locations, mobilising 220 volunteers and supporting many families. Family Lives is receiving a grant of £249,990.

LENA Home, led by Home Start UK

LENA Home focusses on increasing the number and variety of conversations parents have with babies and children in their home environment. LENA Home volunteers support parents to make use of a digital word pedometer that measures turn taking, frequency and length of conversations in the home. This data is used by volunteers to guide conversations with parents about what's going well, how they compare to the wider population, and where there are opportunities for more conversations.

Home Start UK,  is a national charity who work with volunteers to give children the best start in life, and work across over 260 local Home Starts nationally. With a grant of £214,805, Home Start UK will extend the existing, small scale, pilot to 21 locations, mobilising over 500 volunteers and supporting over 900 families.

Birth and Beyond Community Supporter, led by NCT

NCT, the national childbirth and support charity, developed Birth and Beyond Community Supporters to support vulnerable parents who are vulnerable during their first 1,000 days of parenthood. The programme combines local community support with NCT’s expertise.  

Trained volunteers are paired with new parents to help improve mothers’ connectedness and support with the services available to them. Volunteers meet with parents in community settings to provide ongoing support for up to two years.

With a grant of £225,094, NCT are being supported to expand this free-at-point-of-access model from North West London to at least five other England locations, mobilising 220 volunteers who will support as many women.

Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities, led by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities (EPEC) is a universal parent-led approach that increases the scale and availability of effective parenting support to local communities, particularly families from disadvantaged backgrounds. EPEC was developed and is operated by the Center for Child and Parent Support, at South London and Maudsley NHS (SLAM) hospital. This well evidenced programme focusses on enabling and building the skills of at risk parents to encourage early, positive behaviour support for children. Trained volunteers, supported by specialists, support parent classes held in the community.

With a grant of £249,898, SLAM are being supported to enable EPEC to reach over 1,000 more families and mobilise more than 250 volunteers over the course of this fund, growing to 16 new hubs across England.  

* Nesta's Longitude Prize, our work on future skills and aging are also hot contenders! 


Lydia Ragoonanan

Lydia Ragoonanan

Lydia Ragoonanan

Senior Programme Manager

Lydia was a Senior Programme Manager within Nesta's Innovation Lab.  She developed and managed a range of practical innovation programmes.She worked on a range of social action funds, …

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