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“Families are the driving force for change” – blog by Carly Attridge, Family by Family

Today, we’re hearing from Carly Attridge, National Programme Manager for Family by Family talks about the new pilot in Stoke-on-Trent.

“We’ve all experienced tough times at some point or another and the last year has been no exception. When I’ve had my own tough times, having people alongside me to listen, not be judgemental and to share their own experiences has made me feel less alone and isolated. The tough times for families across the UK is also widely reported and even before the pandemic child poverty was on the rise, with 300,000 children shifting into poverty in April 21, more families struggling with isolation and mental health challenges, as well as a myriad of other impacts including unemployment, child attainment at school and food poverty.

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We know there is a lot to do to help families to thrive and not just survive, but also in shifting the culture and practices in a system that is struggling to cope with how to best navigate supporting families before they reach crisis point. This is going to necessitate a different way of being and doing in order to make lasting change.

This is one of the reasons why I think Family by Family is so brilliant- on the face of it, it isn’t rocket science. All we’re doing is connecting families who have been through tough times and have come out the otherside, with families who are experiencing tough times. However, there are some magic ingredients that I believe make this project special which are outlined alongside our principles:

  1. We are open to all families who want change

This is a fundamental part of the project. There isn’t a long criteria or eligibility list, rather we are open to any families whatever their makeup is as long as they have a child or kids under 18 living at home. Families are not one size fits all and we hope that as we grow we are able to connect people from lots of different backgrounds with each other.  Families have to want to change though, the driving force comes from them choosing to do it and being committed to taking action. It’s not about a professional telling them they need to join the project. No one is forced to take part.

  1. A whole family focus

This is one of the most exciting things for me as we look at the whole family unit, including parents and their kids. Many of the children in my personal networks teach me about the importance of saying it how it is, being curious and open, using our imagination and play. Kids have a massive role to play in the project and we consider them as equal partners in being leaders and role models in helping families to change. I think this emphasis is going to make the project even more fun and even more important. We recently met a 9 year old boy in one of the local parks in Stoke, who told us he’d love to be involved in a project like Family by Family after his Mum explained what we were hoping to do. Children want to be a part of the change. We just need to create more space and the right conditions for our children and young people to do so.

  1. Families drive change

Asset-based working is not a new concept and has existed throughout time. It’s just that now it has more attention being paid to it, especially in a Health and Social Care context but it is more than working alongside communities and designing services or giving feedback. I particularly like this explanation from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health:

“An asset based approach makes visible and values the skills, knowledge, connections and potential in a community”

This approach means that we are putting families and their voices at the centre of our work, working from what is working well, not what is lacking. It is not an easy way to work and requires professionals to be able to work with and alongside, to put our agendas to one side and to start from a place of strength not of deficit. The Family by Family approach in Australia has been codesigned with families voices and experiences as front and centre, which gives us a solid foundation to work from. In Stoke as we are connecting with more families we will be able to localise this further and ensure that we are building on the strengths of the families but more importantly the change that they want to see. My vision is that this doesn’t only happen within the family link ups but is also modelled across all of the layers of the project and has wider impacts for how Stoke organises and delivers services but also builds upon wider community networks.

  1. Relationships sustain change

Networks and connections are vital, we know that having quality connections personally and professionally enriches our lives and wellbeing. Family by Family has the potential to create lasting friendships but also thriving networks of families who are supporting each other. Imagine if we can build a sustainable network of families that have opportunities to use their gifts and talents and are alongside each other during tough times without needing to become another cog in a service.

  1. Learn through doing and reflecting

We are very close to making our first link ups in Stoke- exciting! The principles of coaching and nurturing through relationships also requires our coaches to help families to reflect on the actions they are taking. The process of reflecting and learning helps us to see what we might be able to do differently next time or to learn from what we did that was a success. As a project team we will be mirroring this process throughout our work so that we can check in on how we’re helping families to make changes and ensuring that we are putting their strengths and desires first. We’d love to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to learn and reflect with us as the project develops. We all have gifts to share, why not follow us @familybyuk to join the conversation.

About Carly

Carly brings a wealth of expertise in project design, management and development of community-led and volunteering programmes across the UK. More recently, she has been working in the hospice sector, leading an award-winning End of Life and social isolation programme, scaling a project born in East London with 10 other hospices in the South East. She recently completed an MA in Social Entrepreneurship with distinction at Goldsmiths college London. Alongside her role as National Programme Manager for Family by Family she is also Founding Director of The Loss Project, a social enterprise exploring grief and loss in communities. She spends a lot of her time boxing, which is a new found passion and working her way through a mountain of books. She speaks Spanish and always has a creative project on the go, at the moment she is enjoying experimenting with collage.