To raise awareness about child poverty, Cheltenham Borough Council coordinated a year of action together with local charities and businesses.
During 2019, Cheltenham Borough Council delivered a wide-ranging programme of events and activities to highlight the inequalities faced by children growing up in poverty. Having established a greater joint understanding of the issues, they are now creating a collective agreement across Cheltenham about how the council and partners will support children and families.
A needs assessment conducted by Gloucestershire County Council found there were approximately 4,300 children and young people growing up in poverty in Cheltenham. These children, compared to their more affluent peers, were facing significant challenges such as poorer educational attainment, a higher risk of being victims of crime, and higher rates of obesity and mental health issues.
Cheltenham Borough Council had previously run a year of action on mental health, which proved an effective campaigning tool. Its existing relationship with public sector partners and local community and voluntary sector organisations was a strong foundation to co-create a year-long programme to raise the profile of child poverty and start to tackle the inequality gap.
The year began with a launch event, gathering over 100 professionals from a range of organisations to hear the council’s call for action and to better understand the data behind it. Each month the council organised activities and events around a specific campaign area, such as physical activity, good mental health and domestic abuse. A particularly popular event was a careers fair designed to inspire children from lower-income families to consider a wider range of options.
Cheltenham Council secured £36,600 of funding for the programme from partners including the Police and Crime Commissioner, Gloucestershire County Council and private sector sponsors. This was the first time the council had collaborated with the private sector to tackle social issues in this way, but they found businesses were concerned about child poverty and keen to support No Child Left Behind.
Over the course of the year, the council began to establish new ways of working to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and young people, such as building strengths-based relationships and taking a restorative practice approach. It has now embedded a trauma-informed approach across services, training professionals about how to support children with adverse childhood experiences.
The primary aim of the year was to raise awareness about child poverty, and the council achieved very high levels of engagement:
- around 2,800 children were directly reached through the activities and events
- 78 per cent of local primary schools were involved over the course of the year
- 80 partners engaged, across the public, private and voluntary sectors
- 337,000 people were reached through social media campaigning.
As part of the programme, Pittville secondary school adopted the restorative practice approach, leading to exclusions dropping by 56 per cent (122 in 2017/18 to 68 in 2018/19). The council is starting to work with the University of Gloucestershire to measure long-term outcomes for children.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Over the year, Cheltenham Borough Council built a coalition of willing local partners interested in tackling child poverty and raised wider awareness about the issue. The council is now building on this platform and taking a leadership role to create long-term change for children and young people.
As part of this, the council is working with partners to gain sign-up to the NCLB community agreement which will commit partners to collective ways of working to support children and their families, particularly focusing on closing the gap between the most vulnerable children and their peers. This agreement is based on the principles of being restorative, trauma-informed and strengths-based. Partners will share a responsibility to work hand-in-hand with families, to understand the effects of poverty and trauma, and to ensure organisations are compassionate. Cheltenham Borough Council are making changes to staff training, policies and practices to meet these standards, alongside seeking system-wide support for the principles.
The council also plans to continue some of the most successful components of the year of action, such as the careers fair and the unstoppable period poverty campaign, which distributes sanitary products to families in need.
Ambitious place leadership was crucial to the success of this project. Cheltenham Borough Council was able to lead and coordinate the programme, galvanising partners across the town and different sectors to participate.
The council found that having clear branding and an outline plan for the year in advance made it easier to persuade private sector partners to get involved, and helped them to plan their participation. Having cross-party political support and robust and powerful data about the scale and impacts of child poverty locally were key to persuading organisations to take part.
Managing Director of Place and Growth, Cheltenham Borough Council