Oxford Early Years Lab to establish city community-led children centres network

Published: Wednesday, 18th July 2018

Parents, key professionals, & community members are coming together to create a network for community-led children centres, with the aim of reducing the social mobility gap for under fives in Oxford.

The Oxford Early Years project brings together a team of between 30-40 stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds that are all connected to the Early Years sector.

The project, which is facilitated by Oxford Rapid Action Lab (RAL), with support from Oxford City Council, encourages stakeholders to work together to develop quality and long-term sustainable prototypes to reduce the social mobility gap between young children.

The participants include leaders from Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Health Visitors, Donnington Doorstep, Family Links, Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support, Flos The Place In The Park, OxPip, Peeple, the Slade and Grandpont nurseries, Oxfordshire Community Foundation, and more.

The group will draw on their shared expertise to identify different ways to work together to develop and test community driven solutions to close the social mobility gap for children under the age of five in Oxford. 

The network has formed five ‘teams’, each of which are tackling a different aspect of early years, from language development to outdoor play and will be testing a variety of solutions to assess how best to support the city’s community centres.

This will take place across three studio sessions between July and September; the first session took place on Tuesday 10 July at Oxford Brookes University.

Previously the group have led a three day kick-off workshop session with the aim to deepen their knowledge of the challenges facing the Early Years sector.

The period from conception to age five years is a critical period. Studies have shown that children from disadvantaged background struggle disproportionately with challenges late in life arising from early experiences. Adults and young adults suffering later in life from challenges such as mental health, family breakdown, child abuse, poor health, substance abuse, and incarceration, often stem from formative experiences early in life.

According to the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation, 10 of Oxford's 83 neighbourhood areas ('Super Output Areas') are among the 20% most relatively deprived areas in England – these areas being the Leys, Rose Hill and Barton which experience multiple types of relative deprivation.

Although Oxfordshire County Council is the local authority which has the legal obligation and responsibility for Children’s Services, the City Council has been supporting work to continue the long-term sustainability of the community-led Children’s Centres that are based in the city.

The City Council is supporting the important project, to strengthen the network of community-led children's centres in the city, with £25,000 of funding to develop the prototype solutions emerging from this Rapid Action Lab.

Earlier this year Oxford City Council consulted on its Children and Young Peoples’ Strategy, which aims to guide work focusing on children and young people’s needs and helping them fulfil their ambitions, covering the period of 2018-2023. The strategy covers young people in Oxford aged 0-25.

Councillor Marie Tidball, Executive Board Member for supporting local communities, said: “We have been pleased to work in partnership with the Oxford Hub and so many experienced organisations in Oxford's Early Years sector, to connect with local people to identify the best ways to tackle the challenge of social mobility for 0-5 year olds in our communities. We are grateful to the Oxford Rapid Action Lab in facilitating such an innovative and important project to build the sustainability of the network of community-led children's centres in the city. 

"The collaboration between the Oxford Rapid Action Lab and the community-led centres across the city will ensure that this network is able to identify and implement the most effective solutions to best meet the needs of our local communities.

"We know that the early years is an extremely important stage in children's development and that parents get the right support. We want to be able to ensure that everyone in Oxford receives the best start in life and want every child to become happy, safe, successful, healthy and active citizens in our city.”

Sara Fernandez, Director at the Oxford Hub, one of the organizers of the Lab “The challenges we are facing locally continue to increase in their degree of urgency and complexity. The Oxford Hub continues its social action and volunteering programmes, but we also work with organisations and residents to come together to collectively address some of the issues that we face.

"Through the Early Years Rapid Action Lab our aim is to develop meaningful collaboration and different prototypes that make a difference to young children in our communities. None of us alone is as smart as all of us together, and we hope that the Lab will showcase that across the early years community.”