Big Hopes Big Future

Old socks, pine cones and playdough are just a few of the no-cost and low-cost items that Home-Start volunteers will be using when they take on the attainment challenge with the backing of a new family-focused programme, Big Hopes Big Future (BHBF).

Funded nationally for three years by the STV Children’s Appeal and locally by a range of funders, BHBF is being rolled out initially in Aberdeen and East Lothian. Our ambition is to extend the programme wherever it is needed because it offers exactly what research into the attainment gap indicates will make a lasting difference – early stage additional support and engagement for children who are at risk of falling behind before they even reach school.

While closing the attainment gap is a key priority in Scotland so far a great deal of the activity is focused on work taking place in school. Home-Start is focusing on the home learning environment and the early years. That’s because research shows that working with very young children and parents together at home makes a major difference to children’s performance at school and also to their long-term future. We see our role as helping parents by supporting them to be the best parents they can be.

Key to the BHBF programme are trained and well-supported volunteers. The focus is on helping children gain the emotional, social, cognitive and practical skills they need to thrive at school, and on supporting parents to actively engage in their children’s play and learning. Volunteers also provide support to encourage parents to establish routines that support a child’s health and wellbeing, including mealtimes and a regular bedtime. It’s a structured programme which enables parents to turn everyday activities into play-based learning opportunities. That’s why the recommended resources are, as far as possible, everyday objects which can be found in or near most homes or accessed through local services such as libraries.

Local people helping each other is a founding principle for Home-Start, because support and learning works best in a relationship of mutual trust. The connections volunteers make with parents matter a great deal because many parents lack confidence. They may have doubts about their ability to help their children learn, perhaps having struggled at school themselves. Volunteers are encouraged to be flexible and person-centred, and to adapt their approach to the needs of each family. In the BHBF programme volunteers will coach parents through a number of challenges by meeting every week, typically for around six months.

BHBF arrives in Scotland following a successful roll-out across England but in a revised and updated form, ensuring that all the suggested activities, from books to songs and sources of further help, are appropriate for families here.

Volunteers and local buy-in are the two key ingredients needed to achieve our goals. So if you want to know more or think you can help please get in touch. If you can’t yet make a sock puppet, find a way of creating play opportunities out of pine cones or have forgotten the recipe for playdough, you can still get involved. Our BHBF volunteer training will definitely fill in the gaps.