Big Hopes Big Future

Home Start Watford and Three Rivers is one of 270 schemes across the UK and has been supporting families in the districts of Watford, Three Rivers and the town of Bushey for more than 20 years.  We source our own funding which is used to offer a universal, home-visiting service to all families, whatever their background, with at least one child under the age of 5. Over the past 20 years our scheme has supported more than 2,200 families with almost 5,000 children, with the help of our trained volunteers.


“Parents are a child’s first educator. A child’s family and home environment has a strong impact on his/her language and literacy development and educational achievement. This impact is stronger during the child’s early years but continues throughout their school years”  – The National Literacy Trust 2011

One in four children under the age of five in the UK experience a difficult start in life due to family pressures, but Home-Start believes that every child deserves to be loved, to play, to learn and to grow in confidence.  Research by the National Literacy Trust has shown that this is best achieved in a happy and secure family setting, but being a parent isn’t always easy.

The need:

Research* consistently shows that parental involvement in the form of ‘at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement and adjustment.  But skills and understanding of parents vary significantly, particularly when parents are struggling to cope with problems such as illness, disability, poor mental health, language barriers, poverty, homelessness and domestic violence.  This can mean that their children all too often miss out on the love, routines and support that are so vital for their future.

These issues are familiar to Home-Start Watford & Three Rivers but our volunteers tackle these by offering positive parental involvement strategies to families, including role-modelling play with children, providing opportunities for learning and helping families to provide a stimulating, safe home environment. They also offer parents a listening ear, help with budgeting, and advice about routines at home. In addition, our volunteers enable families to access community-based activities which are tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. Extending this support to crucial transition points for a child’s education is the driver for our Big Hopes Big Future project.

* The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review; Professor Charles Desforges with Alberto Abouchaar 2003 for DfEE

Early or preventative intervention can help ensure that children are ‘school ready’ and able to smoothly transition into the school environment. By providing the only at home, peer led service, Home-Start Watford & Three Rivers can provide a major opportunity to work alongside parents and schools to ensure that all pre-school children are supported to:-

  • Arrive at school on time, alert, fed and appropriately dressed
  • Undertake basic self-care skills like dressing and undressing
  • Use the toilet and wash their hands unaided
  • Feed themselves
  • Cope away from their parent/carer

This project supports local strategic objectives for the development of children and supporting them to reach their potential. The planned outcomes will help the County deliver its strategic aims which focus on giving every child the opportunity to thrive in their families, in their schools and in their communities.  The County priorities are for services to be provided which deliver the right help at the right time, family resilience and partnership and integration. This project will contribute to these Council and partner strategies and outcomes, which note that education is a major determinant of an individual’s economic wealth and social wellbeing, and achieving a solid education is the most decisive factor in enabling young people to succeed in higher education and employment.   Being ‘school ready’ at crucial points of the educational cycle lays the foundation for academic success for a child and supports social and emotional adjustment through the school years.

What do we want to do:

With support and supervision from Home-Start Coordinators, our specially trained, Big Hopes Big Future volunteers will provide weekly one-to-one support, for 2-3 hours, both at home and in our group settings, for a period of 4-6 months.

Our specially designed volunteer training programme and volunteer activity pack supports the Early Years Foundation Stage framework and early learning goals. It focuses on a range of fun, practical and outcome-focused activities across three areas which help equip children and their parents transition to school:

Home and Parental Readiness

  • Introducing stimulating materials in the home
  • Accessing the early years services
  • Establishing routines
  • Engaging parents with their child’s development

Child Readiness

  • Arriving at school fed and on time
  • Playing and sharing with others
  • Using the toilet
  • Understanding simple hygiene

Communication and Language Skills

  • Name and number recognition
  • Sounds
  • Stories
  • Mark making
  • Games

Using an assessment tool, developed by the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, the support provided by volunteers can be easily evaluated to demonstrate improvements in the children’s behaviour, daily living skills and language & cognition skills.

What will we achieve

“One of the best strategies to ensure development of all individuals, society and countries is through  cost-effective school readiness – ready children, ready schools and ready families”  – School Readiness, a conceptual framework. Unicef, 2012

In 2014 an interim assessment of the national pilot project (funded by the Department of Education National Grants Programme) showed 100% of children supported through the BHBF programme had made significant progress in all four dimensions of nursery/school readiness. Big Hopes Big Future is a proven, cost effective tool for ensuring children start school better able to learn and enjoy their studies.

We want to build on this success and already have 20 specially trained volunteers who can support families to improve routines, help parents understand the benefits of early learning for their children, and assist parents to overcome barriers to their own engagement.  With funding, we can place these volunteers with 40 families, provide training to additional volunteers and help to transform the lives of children across Watford, Three Rivers and Bushey.

We have initial funding for 40 families in Watford & Three Rivers to be supported by the BHBF programme.  This is being limited to two places per school and we are targeting the areas of higher need first.

You can read more about this initiative on the Home-Start UK website, which also gives you access to downloadable information. Follow this link to the Home-Start UK website

Funded by the Cabinet Office, delivered by the Big Lottery Fund
Funded by the Cabinet Office, delivered by the Big Lottery Fund