On Thursday 11th April over 200 adult delegates and 100 children attended our Who’s the Expert? conference at South Essex College. We hosted the family-friendly conference in collaboration with the University of Essex with attendees for the conference from Southend, as well as the four other A Better Start sites across the country and Early Years professionals from further afield.

The conference was jointly-led by parents and explored best practice in engaging families in the design and delivery of the services they use. The exciting event brought together parents/carers with children under 4 and professionals supporting families across health, education and social care sectors.

Delegates were encouraged to bring their family members to the inclusive event and were able to enjoy six keynote speeches and a range of fantastic workshops around the theme of the conference. The speakers included leading academics from the University of Essex, describing how this work is developing locally and nationally and Joanna Ruffle, Director of Strategic Transformation at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

Joanna Ruffle also announced a new investment, alongside ABSS and SAVS, in a new full time Co-production Champion who will work with a new Citizens Panel, to ensure best practice in Co-design of services and Co-production (implementing and delivering services with citizens as partners) takes place across the Borough.

Workshops included a Question Time-style panel with our Parent Champion volunteers, volunteer parent advocates who are actively engaged in the programme. There were over a dozen different information stands from our programme providers and other Early Years organisations, roving ‘rapporteur’ youth volunteers reporting on the conference activities and a series of informative ‘info-graphic’ posters, including several created by the Parent Champions on different aspects of our work they have been involved in.

Taking advantage of the impressive central Southend venue, the event had a wide range different family activities supported by the Turning Tides Team from SAVS including performances of The Lost Leigh Goose by Wild Story Theatre, a sensory room, family robotics sessions and family healthy eating workshops. On top of this, families had a chance to meet the new A Better Start Southend mascot as well as take part in fun arts & crafts activities.

Jeff Banks, Director of A Better Start Southend, said:
“The conference helped further establish A Better Start Southend as key player in Southend and beyond, working at the forefront of endeavours to make co-design and co-production central to Early Years service provision. There are so many people and organisations to thank for making it a special event, and truly a conference with a difference, but a special thank you is for the A Better Start Southend Parent Champions, who have given their time, dedication and energy into making it the family-friendly conference it was.”

Charlie Edwards, A Better Start Southend Parent Champion from Kursaal ward, and mother of two, said:
“The whole day was a massive success. Being a part of creating it was a great achievement for us all. We have all done things we never thought we could do. We worked fantastically as a team and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Michelle Gray, A Better Start Southend Parent Champion from Milton ward, and mother of two, said:
“The preparation for this conference really brought home what this project means to me. So many important conversations happened throughout the day and it’s very exciting to think that we have such an opportunity to bring about positive change on how services are designed and delivered for families in Southend. It was a relaxed, informative, friendly, well thought out day and I feel very proud to have my family there and to have been part of it.”

Kayleigh Wilkins, A Better Start Southend Parent Champion from Victoria ward, and mother of two, added:
“The conference was an amazing experience for me and my kids there was something for every age group to enjoy. I think the workshops were fantastic and my kids really enjoyed the Wild Story Theatre performance especially – they sat still the whole way through! It was fun to be a part of and we all worked well together as a team to organise it.”

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