Why relationships matter - Lindsay Watkins, Millbrook Primary School / Pam mae perthnasoedd yn bwysig - Lindsay Watkins, Ysgol Gynradd Millbrook

Millbrook Primary School is a 3-11 school in Newport. Our motto, “Learning about caring, caring about learning,” helps to drive our mission to make a positive difference to the lives of the young people that we work with.  This motivation drives us.

Our awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has grown over time. It has helped us to realise the importance of our work to support young people and their families beyond education and the impact that trauma can have if we do nothing. We believe that being ACE aware is vital in education and for all organisations who work with children and their families.

Our philosophy at Millbrook is that happy children learn.  We recognise that to support the child effectively, we must support the family and that to support the family effectively; we must support and embrace the community. On site, multi-agency support for families and the community supports us in this vision. We recognise that this is most effective when we engage with children & their families from a very early age.

We work within the community of Bettws, an area with high levels of deprivation. There are five Lower Super Output Areas on the estate and over 10,000 people live there. Community issues range from unemployment, crime, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and living on the breadline. 

Many of our children or their family members have experienced traumatic issues that have adversely affected their lives. Some of the issues are generational. History often has a bad habit of repeating itself.

We see ourselves as a learning community; constantly learning, developing, evolving and changing so that we can maximise our impact. Over the years, the team have researched what we can do to improve the lives of our young people and the community that we serve. Our research has included international visits to the USA to explore how agencies can come together to make a lasting difference. The old adage, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” completely resonates with this. We came to realise that to make a difference and to support children that had experienced trauma we could not do it on our own. We have always worked in partnership with agencies but we started to think more carefully about the way in which we approached this. Every time that we developed a partnership, we analysed the difference that this could make to our community and to our young people’s lives. A shift in our mind-set occurred so that partnerships that we developed were no longer random acts of support but carefully planned and thought through exercises.

Newport Local Authority had a key part to play in this fully supporting our mission and as a result, we have been able to develop onsite multi-agency provision, which includes Flying Start and Families First Prevention Team.  Our agencies do not work in silos. They come together and support children and families in a united approach.

 The key to the success of our multi agency work has been our focus on developing good relationships. In fact, we have three mantras:

1.       It’s all about relationships.

2.       Relationships have to be negotiated all of the time to make them effective and sustainable.

3.       To make relationships work partners have to have “yes” written in their hearts – in other words have the same shared philosophy and vision and the willingness to work together to make a difference.  A knowledge of ACEs is key to this.

Our hope is that when someone comes to Millbrook they feel welcomed and that permeates throughout the building so that all agencies are seen as one seamless team.

Over the last year, we have been a pilot area for the Welsh Government Children First initiative. This is about facilitating multi agency work around a community or specific area to work collaboratively for the children and people in order to reduce inequalities and to mitigate the impact of ACEs.

Our work has enabled us to strengthen our partnerships with joint training for schools across our cluster and for agencies that work with us. We have also worked closely with Pillgwenlly Primary School to research ways of building resilience within our communities. Our children have been at the heart of this work. Barnardo’s Cymru and Save the Children Cymru are two anchor organisations that have facilitated this work.  Groups of students from Millbrook and Pill have worked together to learn how to conduct their own community consultation plans. They have helped to bring community agencies together and are supporting Newport’s well-being plan in action in our community. We believe that the best way to change a generation is to empower a generation through the creation of opportunities, the development of good character and through involvement in solving community problems. The participation of students from our school in opportunities to work with the community is a very powerful tool, which is helping to mitigate the impact of ACEs. Our children are developing their understanding of the rights of a child, democracy and citizenship through such work. In return, they are working with our community to affect positive change.

Working with Gwent Police has been another significant aspect of our Children First work.  We have worked with them to pilot The Heddlu Bach (mini police) initiative, which aims to strengthen partnership work; support community safety initiatives and promote positive policing. We have 20 Heddlu Bach police across the school who were appointed following a rigorous interview and selection process. The children support the work of Gwent School Beat and our police liaison officer; they attend and support local community events and they take part in wider community events. For example, they recently filmed a Cyber Safety video as part of collaboration between Gwent Police and The city of London Police. Student participation in multiagency work such as Heddlu Bach is a powerful way to mitigate the impact of ACEs. Because of this work, we have found that our students have gained in confidence and aspiration with a growing pride in their local community. Moreover, the children are inspiring cross-generational sectors of our community with their work ranging from working with older members of the community to working with parents and families. They recently attended a Bettws community information event and supported the promotion of the work of many of our agencies.  The children are the heart of our community and they are helping the community to have heart and to be more resilient.

We aim to open windows to the world and promote equity in our community. To this end, we give opportunity to our children and families to share their cultures and to experience life beyond the Bettws estate.  We have an onsite Confucius classroom and teach mandarin. We also work with the USA organisation One World to raise our community’s awareness of The Well-being and Future Generations Act and to facilitate links with schools and communities in other countries. Opportunities like these help to promote aspiration and self-belief.  

Relationships are the key to the success of our work with children and their families. We have an incredibly talented dedicated team whose foremost goal is to promote well-being. This starts with ensuring that we truly operate an open door policy. Smiles and warn welcomes are the order of the day for anyone who enters the building. We actively listen and we support.

A dedicated family room is a fundamental feature of our work.  A family well-being café and Mindfulness courses for families are just two of the many facilities that we offer our families. This also facilitates family access to other agencies on an informal basis. Agencies come to the well-being café to build relationships. Trust is built and developed and families gain confidence to seek support. For example, some families have self-referred to our prevention team and this has helped to resolve a specific issue that the family are facing.

A range of family learning programmes and family activities are also on offer. These further support family well-being. We have run teaching assistant training programmes within the school and we have supported the employment of many members of our community. This has served to promote aspirations and employability. There is a lot of untapped talent and skill that can serve as excellent role models within the Bettws community.

We provide a bespoke package of well-being support for children and families across the school. This includes Emotional literacy Support and a range of nurture and welfare programmes. These are used to provide early intervention especially when a child has faced trauma in their life. The key to the success of any of this work is the relationships that we develop with our young people and their families.  A recent discussion with a child who has experienced trauma really brought home the impact of the work that we are doing:

“Well we all have bumps in the road at some time. I had a bump in the road when my parents split up and mum was very ill.  I was so upset. I used to come to school and cry but it was okay ‘cos I was able to talk to Miss. Every morning when I came in upset, she would make me a drink, we would sit and have a chat, and I felt better. I’m okay now but I know if I ever needed her then she would be there.”

Our research on ACEs has shown us that all it takes is one positive relationship with an adult to make a difference in a child’s life. Imagine the difference we can make if the child experiences many positive relationships!  Relationships matter. People, not programs change people. If every professional works together to build positive relationships, we can make a difference and break the cycle of ACEs.

Sarah Kersley