How can outreach work effectively engage hard-to-reach community members? Partnership working and forward thinking has been successful in breaking down barriers to participation, as Nazia Hussain, project manager for Keighley extended schools cluster in Bradford, explainsBackground

The Keighley extended schools cluster is a vibrant, proactive network of 11 extended schools that has developed and maintained a number of successful partnerships with providers from both the voluntary and community sectors. Through partnership working, building on consultation, we have developed a range of universal and targeted needs-led services for children and young people, their families, and the wider community. In addition, our services are carefully planned to meet the needs and priorities of Keighley Central as a whole – needs identified on a much wider scale through, for example, the local area agreement. As an extended school cluster, community engagement is one of our top priorities. We feel that without the right level and type of engagement and interaction with the community the extended schools agenda would prove difficult to deliver. However, engaging hard-to-reach communities has proven to be one of the biggest, but most exciting challenges for us. Despite strenuous efforts, we realised that the same people were failing to access  services time after time. We pondered, ‘Why is it that X and Y tell us faithfully every week they will come to the after-school club and don’t turn up?’ and subsequently took time to understand and diminish the barriers to participation.  As a result we pioneered innovative ways of community engagement. In this case study I offer two examples of outreach provision – our extended schools holiday provision and the MOSbus pilot project – and provide an account of how services are planned and delivered to meet the needs of diverse, hard-to-reach communities.

Engaging ‘hard-to-reach’ communities
As a cluster we knew that outreach work was essential if we were to widen participation and ensure those that really need support were among those accessing it. Being inclusive meant ensuring provision was open to all children, regardless of where they lived in proximity to local schools – and to all families including mothers, fathers, siblings and extended family. With this in mind, we set about identifying ways to inform families of, and give a taster of, the services we offer. 

Holiday provision
Historically, extended schools holiday activities ran free of charge from schools or neighbouring community centres in each of the geographical localities in the cluster. Activities were promoted via word of mouth, letters to parents, community activists, and through our extensive multi-agency partnership network. Although the uptake of activities was satisfactory, there was a sense that we were imposing activities upon the children and their families. For instance, we would encourage parents to sign up for activities and would follow this with letters reminding them which activities they had booked. Letters would be followed up by a phone call the night before the children were due to attend the scheme and frequently there were calls on the morning of the provision. Furthermore, a minibus was sent out to collect the children from their neighbourhoods. Did this guarantee participation? Put simply, no. It was the same children accessing provision day in day out and those we hoped to target frequently did not take part.

As an extended school, we felt that it was necessary to seek innovative ways of reaching out to these children and their families. Consequently, we took the decision to develop a programme of outreach provision for summer holiday activities, focused on the places where children choose to congregate out of school hours. Our plan was to take our holiday activities to children, in places that were convenient to them – in public spaces such as parks and other open settings where children, including those under eight years old, are free to come and go as they please and are free to decide for themselves what to take part in. In order for this to get off the ground it was important to engage key partners from the initial planning stage. A multi-agency partnership group was set up to ensure effective, high-quality delivery, and to pool expertise and resources. The group involved the Highfield Community Centre, Baildon Recreation Centre, early years and child care services, Cougar Pride, and Parks and Landscapes. Together, as a partnership, we took the decision to employ a detached team of workers to facilitate the delivery of safe, open access play provision. They were the specialists and it made sense to draw on their experience, training and expertise. Advice and guidance was also sought from early years and child care services in Bradford Council and a plan of action was put in place complemented with thorough risk assessments for the delivery of an open holiday activity access scheme in public places. Funding was obtained for this provision from Awards for All, the Local Network Fund, and the Baildon Recreation Centre. During summer 2007, activities were delivered from Victoria Park and Cliffe Castle Park. These parks were regularly used by the whole of the community and were not connected with any form of territorialism. Open access play sessions were also delivered between high rise flats and on streets in deprived communities. In consequence, the uptake of our summer holiday activities in 2007 increased by over 70% in comparison with 2006. For some children and families it was the very first time they had engaged in extended school provision, and the feedback that we have received evidences how deprived some children were of play before they accessed this provision. Simple activities made a significant difference and had a great impact on children, young people and their families in terms of enjoyment, engagement in physical activity, friendship formations, social and cognitive development and so on. Comments from families were testament to the success with many claiming that summer 2007 was the best summer they have ever had.

Remobilising hard-to-reach communities via the MOSbus project
The Mobile Outreach Service bus (MOSbus) project was set up as a pilot project in partnership with Keighley Voluntary Services (KVS) with the overall aim of reaching and remobilising four dispersed communities that have been deprived of services for many years due to a number of unforeseen factors. These were areas where there had been a lack of community development work; where there is a lack of physical community buildings such as community centres or schools or none at all; and where residents were those traditionally not accessing service provision. A key element of the project was to assist community-based services to capacity build and promote and increase the uptake of their services.

This project was part of KVS’ bigger capacity building support project for voluntary-/community -based organisations. Funding was sought from Bradford Vision’s area resource budget which enabled KVS to employ two workers to work on the MOSbus.  As an extended schools cluster project manager, I was involved in planning the project and in encouraging service providers to get on board. The success of this project was very much down to all the hard work, time and commitment that was put in by Rukhsana Mahmood and Ash Alom from KVS and by service providers involved in planning and delivery. Without strong partnership working this project would not have operated on the level it did. It was necessary that the principles of this project were adopted and embedded among all partner organisations and consequently a multi-agency partnership steering group – consisting of services providers and practitioners from the voluntary-, community- and statutory-based organisations – was set up to plan the coordination and the delivery of the project. A timetable of the MOSbus service delivery plan was developed by the group after considerable consideration to determine the location and the timings of the MOSbus sessions. It was essential for the bus to be parked at busy locations, where we could attract a lot of people. 

MOSbus services
Services were delivered over a six-month period and the MOSbus sessions ran fortnightly in each of the four localities. As the project was a pilot we decided to hire the MOSbus from Bingley Voluntary Action rather than purchasing a new bus. This seemed like a sensible move especially as the bus was, at the time, an underused community resource. The physical composition and specialist features of the bus – such as heating and lighting facilities, as well as portable chairs and a TV – allowed us the flexibility of running taster courses and activities next to schools, between high rise flats and from the streets.

A wide range of services were on offer on the MOSbus and in close proximity to where the bus was parked. A mobile play team from early years and childcare services provided excellent, interactive, open-access play sessions for children in each of the neighbourhoods. Sessions were delivered from school playgrounds and streets.  The engagement and participation from children and young people in these sessions was fantastic and we found that children who were not traditionally engaging in out-of-school activities were attending these sessions on a regular basis. In some localities we were able to attract up to 50 children per session as the play sessions proved to be such an attraction – and such a fun way to engage children. Staff from the local leisure centre also attracted a big audience of children with the bikes they brought from their Shock Gym (a gym for young teenagers) with the overall aim of raising the profile of the Shock Gym service. The youth service did some detached work and also carried out consultation with the young people in reference to the increasing gang culture in the area and how these issues affected young people, and Children’s Information Link provided practical activities for children and their families which engaged community members and enabled the service to effectively promote their work. Health promotion was another aspect of the work from the MOSbus. Keighley Healthy Living Network provided information about the services they offered and also promoted healthy eating by handing out lots of free fruit, sandwiches and fruit juice. An additional spin-off is their involvement in establishing an orienteering course in some of the localities. The PCT were also involved and carried out health checks which proved to be very popular among Asian women. The men’s health team were also on board, providing information about parenting courses and the other services that they offer. Many other agencies promoted their service via the MOSbus project. For instance, children’s centres and local community centres used this opportunity to build crucial relationships and lasting links with families. They also handed out free goodies such as key rings, pens and fridge magnets to advertise their provision as did other providers such as the Keighley Cougars rugby team. Police community support officers gave out information about community safety initiatives and also participated in the delivery of the open-access play sessions, allowing them to build good relationships with children, young people and the wider community. Staff from Cliffe Castle Museum provided arts and crafts sessions, while marketing the great things on offer at the museum  and Craven FE College advertised and recruited residents onto a wide range of courses such as first aid, food hygiene and IT, targeting people who were not in employment. Potential learners found the £10 shopping vouchers to be a great incentive to attend a taster course with the promise of an additional £10 voucher upon completion of a six-hour course. One of the extended schools clusters (Greenhead) did a stalwart job of promoting their digital photography course at their on-site City Learning Centre (CLC) –  community members were given the opportunity to have family photographs taken with the aim of enticing them onto this and other courses that are available at the CLC. The project was greatly received by service users. It is significant that some service providers, such as the leisure centre and the Children’s Information Link, reported an increased uptake of services as a direct result of this project. Likewise Craven College attracted many new learners, many of whom had not accessed education for a long while. Hard-to-reach communities were engaged and were eager to get involved and the open-access play sessions run by the youth team from the bus were extremely popular and generated outcomes around health and enjoyment for those that took part. In a nutshell, the MOSbus helped to remobilise and engage hard-to-reach communities, which was exactly what we set out to do.  These two examples – the MOSBus and the holiday play provision – both succeeded in engaging hard-to-reach families and community members by breaking down the barriers to participation. The forward thinking of partners has been successful in optimising both reach and long-term potential. As an extended school cluster, we are constantly striving to find new, imaginative ways of engaging more people. We are very hopeful the MOSBus project will run again (as a self-sustaining service) and we will endeavour to identify other new and exciting ways of engaging hard-to-reach community members. We have certainly been able to evidence that widening access widens success and are fully committed to this level of partnership work now and in the future.

Partnership at the core Good partnerships and projects have been built upon shared values, common goals, matched needs and mutual interest between all partner organisations concerned. We have found that building effective collaboration and partnerships requires time, trust, shared purpose, a commitment to working together as a team, good communication and listening skills, and, importantly, good relationships.  Successful partnership projects have been built where visions have been communicated well and shared with our partners or providers, followed by joint planning and delivery of services. Joint planning with partner organisations has enabled us to increase our capacity to deliver projects and to draw down funding that is not available to statutory organisations. Without partnership working our cluster would not have been able to deliver some of the work we are delivering now. Partnerships are reviewed informally regularly and formally at our Extended Schools Strategy Group, Operational Group, and Multi-Agency Partnership Group meetings. We spend time allowing everyone involved to share ‘good outcome visions’.

Networking is incredibly important. You have to be prepared to attend multi-agency forums and meetings on a regular basis. You get a feel for what others are doing, can share your own plans and aspirations, and identify opportunities to work collaboratively. It makes sense, as we all have the same core values and aims and pooling resources and expertise adds weight to any intervention. Having a good knowledge of, and a standing in, the community facilitates the process.

Staff, community and parent ambassadors have played an important role in bridging extended schools and communities Our community and staff ambassadors have excellent relationships with the wider community and play a vital and integral role in engaging communities and disseminating information. The most effective method of communication and advertisement for our cluster schools is word of mouth and we find that face-to-face discussions between community members and ambassadors works really well. They are known and respected in the community and can communicate in a culturally sensitive manner and in a language that is understood by the target audience.

It was important to us that our extended school outreach work was not just promoted and undertaken by professionals working in the area. We wanted the community to take some ownership, and have involvement in the planning and promotion of extended school provision. In this sense, the families and community members with whom we work are part of our rich partnership – and a very central part. Through our community ambassador programme we are not simply dependent on specialist workers for outreach work and are reaping the benefits of having local people promoting our work. For instance, with the MOSbus project, we were in touch with volunteers in schools, community centres and mosques, with school governors and community councillors, and they helped advertise the service. Ambassadors are real advocates and have done a great deal to encourage friends and family to partake in extended school provision and have helped our cluster schools shape participation within their school and wider community. After all, they’ve benefited themselves and want others to share in this.