Listening to Alison Semmence, CEO of Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS), it becomes clear that February has been productive. The team of seven staff are over a month into their work with A Better Start Southend, engaging parents so they have the opportunity to say how they think the local services children and families use should be run.

“We are all very excited to be working on A Better Start,” says Alison.

“In our outreach team, Georgia and Hayley have been out in the Victoria and Kursaal wards speaking with local parents, telling them what A Better Start Southend is all about and explaining how they can get involved to help influence what children’s services look like.

“Parents are being very responsive and are keen to get involved, which is great.  Things are moving at quite a pace so there is a lovely buzz around SAVS,” she says.

The first parent-led meeting took place in mid-February and was an opportunity for parents to come together, identify their priorities, start to look at issues they want to solve, and talk about how people can get involved.

“Some parents might want to become Parent Champions and others might want to volunteer their time in other ways,” says Alison.

“Parent Champions will have a key role in representing local parents at the various boards and meetings where decisions about how we change the way things are run and develop new services are made.

“I think the key is to not put too much pressure on parents and to make sure we’re really looking after them. At the end of the day being a parent is their priority. By inviting them to get involved in developing local services, we’re taking them out of their comfort zone so we have to provide all the support we can. There will be training so we’re building people’s confidence and skills and they feel happy to be a part of the process.”

The aim is to have 12 Parent Champions trained within the next seven months, with the first four-week training course taking place in March. The sessions will cover the structure of A Better Start and what to expect from the parent-led meetings, and Alison hopes they will help parents get the most out their involvement. Training will also take place so people know what to expect if they volunteer, and the team is developing a volunteer programme and identifying the opportunities that will be open to parents.

As well as training up Parent Champions and volunteers, the main priority for the team over the coming months is establishing Ward Panels.

“Each panel will be made up of movers and shakers from the local area,” says Alison. “They might include local professionals, health workers like GPs or nurses, and children’s centre workers, and they’ll help identify local priorities and work with parents. It will be great to get people together and see these Ward Panels start to take shape. It’s such an exciting time and we’re keen to involve as many people as possible, from all walks of life.”

Keep an eye on the A Better Start Southend website for updates.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what SAVS is planning, or becoming involved in shaping local services for children and families, please contact the team by calling 01702 356069 or emailing



Article published February 2017

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