NCT for non-parents

“I’m going to my first antenatal class tonight”, I mentioned to my friends as I left the office.

“Oh? We didn’t know you were pregnant! Congratulations!” chimed their friendly sarcasm.

It reminded me that it did feel a bit funny going to an antenatal class without a baby on the way. But I reassured them I wasn’t going for me. I was going to observe and learn about what people experience at their first NCT class, so that next time when anyone asks me about classes I can speak from experience, rather than what I’ve read or heard from others.

So I went along on a wintery Wednesday evening last month, to observe my local course in Westbury Church Hall. Picturing my chilly local church hall from my days as a Brownie, I wrapped up warm. But I needn’t have bothered: I entered a lovely snug room, lit with the warm glow of (pretend) candles and a circle of comfy chairs. I was handed a cup of tea and introduced myself to the practitioner and to the mums and dads-to-be who were gathering there. Most were a bit nervous or apprehensive, but the group quickly got chatting.

The class began with mums gathering around one table and birthing partners gathering around another to draw up a list of ‘things they’d like to know’. What struck me instantly was that there was no such thing as a silly question! People quickly shook off the fear of ‘I should know that’, so that the women’s list included questions like ‘Where can I give birth?’ or ‘How do I know when to go to hospital?’ and ‘What if they won’t stop crying?’

The birth partners were both caring and practical: ‘How can I best look after my partner?’ ‘Where can we buy affordable baby equipment?’ and ‘What should we pack in the hospital bag?’ they asked.

We had two long lists of all the questions you could imagine. Everyone instantly showed obvious relief. ‘I thought I was the only one who didn’t know these things!’ people echoed, ‘I was worried that everyone else would have a whole birth plan worked out already!’

We went on to talk about the later stages of pregnancy, how the body changes (including how much the bladder shrinks and where the stomach goes), what happens during labour and what to do when this happens. I learnt so much!

At the end of the session everyone was nattering away and feeling excited that their journey to being a parent was starting to feel even more real. For a lot of people, their first antenatal class is their first interaction with NCT, and often the start of a long relationship with the charity. If they are all as positive and welcoming as the one I attended, I can certainly see why people are keen to stick with NCT and the friends they make through it.

Bethany Squire, Volunteer Support Officer

I’ve been working at NCT for three months now as a Volunteer Support Officer as part of the new Volunteering Team. It’s a fantastic job. I love working with such dedicated, passionate volunteers. Although I’ve worked in volunteer management with other charities, I’m brand new to NCT –  I’ve never been involved with the organisation in any way before. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive about how I would fit in with a parenting charity, not being a parent myself. But I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and have learnt so much, not least through observing classes, visiting branches and taking part in events. My recent visit to an NCT antenatal class summed this up for me, so I was keen to share it with you.

This blog is by Bethany Squire, Volunteer Support Officer (Engagement) at NCT.

The Baby Show

Sherry Bevan, NCT Breastfeeding CounsellorThis blog comes from Sherry Bevan, an NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor and volunteer for her local NCT branch of Bromley and Chislehurst.

Last month I was at The Baby Show in London, representing NCT. I’ve been volunteering for NCT since August 2002 when I first volunteered to staff the NCT baby changing event at my local summer fair. I have been a practitioner since 2010 and I was nominated for President two years ago.

One of my very first volunteering stints was on the NCT stand at the London Baby Show 14 or 15 years ago. That’s when I first saw Sue Saxey (former NCT President) speaking on stage. Immediately, I said to myself “THAT’S what I want to do”.

Fifteen years later …. There I was, billed as one of the “experts” providing one-to-one support for parents AND running NCT breastfeeding taster sessions.

Persistence and patience pays off.

If you are an NCT practitioner or volunteer, you may well be throwing up your hands in horror at the word “experts”.

NCT’s decision to take a stand after many years of absence was a controversial decision. I nearly changed my mind about supporting the event after reading the angry responses on some of our internal forums.

The charity felt this was an opportunity to expand our reach and modernise our image. However many felt that being part of The Baby Show contributes to the commercialisation of becoming a parent. Others were unhappy with the ethics of The Baby Show organisers.

In the end, I am glad I did it.

I know that I made a difference to the parents that I supported that weekend and that, despite their tears, they went away feeling listened to. This was certainly the case for the mum still coming to terms with not exclusively breastfeeding her first baby and the dad who was able to talk for the first time about the overwhelming guilt he feels because his partner had not been able to breastfeed the way they had expected.

Wow, it was a full-on weekend… in between the one-to-one slots and the taster sessions, I was helping out on the fabulous NCT stand, talking to parents about the services that NCT offers, local branches and so such more. Plus we signed up hundreds or people to the Pregnancy & Baby newsletter.

Then, in between helping expectant parents find the right antenatal class, there was the backwards-and-forwards SO many times to the giant storage area as we ran through the 2,500 goody bags we gave away – each filled with treats and positive messages about NCT.

Oh, and also, filming some short soundbites for The Baby Show to promote their next event on social media.

I loved being part of a show team, including many PSAs, practitioners, and volunteers, working together.

Overall, in terms of extending our reach, was it successful? That’s a definite yes.

Did we get everything right on the day? No of course not. But we learned lots.

Tweaks and adjustments have been suggested for the next event but on the whole I feel think we achieved the charity’s aims. We talked to parents and parents-to-be who hadn’t come across NCT before. Many told us how they enjoyed chatting to us as an oasis of calm and peace in the middle of a noisy hectic show.

Brilliant, amazing, inspiring … but I was absolutely shattered by the end of it.

Here are a few photos ‘behind the scenes’ of The Baby Show…

NCT Team at The Baby Show
Some of the team
Meeting people at The Baby Show
Getting out there
NCT stand with video at The Baby Show
The videos talking about a range of parent-focused topics, including perinatal mental health and the #hiddenhalf campaign
Antenatal and postnatal classes at The Baby Show
Our antenatal and postnatal taster sessions
Expert Bethany Green at The Baby Show
Fellow expert Bethany Green

 

 

Everyone is welcome

This blog comes from Carrie Anne Race, an NCT Parent Services Administrator and longstanding branch volunteer.

I first learnt about NCT when I started my antenatal classes, more than 16 years ago now. I was then invited by the local branch, to one of their Mum’s Coffee mornings, where I was made to feel really welcomed. I continued to attend on a regular basis, as being fairly new to the area, it was a great opportunity to meet others. When the branch advertised for new volunteers, I decided then to give something back for all the support they had given me.  I then became the Volunteer Branch Bookings Secretary, which eventually led into becoming a full-time Parent Services Administrator (PSA).

I offered to take on the voluntary role as I wanted to be able to help new parents gain access to the same opportunities that I had with NCT, like making a group of friends – to share the ups and downs of becoming a new parent with – a vital lifeline for some in those first few weeks and months of being a new parent.

When I first started, we were always known as the local friendly face of antenatal care. As the courses were directly linked and booked via the branches, there were more opportunities to meet and discuss with new parents what NCT could offer them.

So when the email about NCT working with The Baby Show came around, I did not hesitate to offer my services because it would again give me the opportunity to engage with new parents on a face-to-face basis. It was a chance to really let them know what NCT is all about and all we have to offer.

Here to help at The Baby Show

Now, recalling my three days on the stand back in October, if I were to sum it up in one word it would be…

“AMAZING”

From the planning, to the team, to the stand, to even the branded polo shirts we wore, it was an operation to be proud of!

But even with the whole team on the stand, sometimes we were simply overwhelmed by the amount of people who came to talk to us. It was a fantastic way to reach a wider audience and tell them about the brilliant work that NCT does, both nationally and locally.

This was not only about the classes, but also the hard work and dedication of our branch volunteers too, including such activities as the NCT Nearly New Sales and first aid sessions, the wonderful benefits of being a member and also the wealth of information they can access on our website.

It was also fun to see the disappointment on the faces of the Dads, when they realised that the NCT Baby Changing app, didn’t actually change the nappy for them – but told you where you could access good quality “star rated” baby changing facilities.

I only hope that I can attend the shows in 2018, as I felt it was a privilege to be asked to help bring NCT to a wider audience – including those people who might not have heard about us before or even thought about NCT.

I am sure that through meeting and talking to parents at the stand we have planted the initial seed about NCT and this will encourage them to become involved with us, either via our branch network, classes or online.

But even more importantly, I think opportunities like this give us the chance to really show that it doesn’t matter as far as NCT is concerned where you are from, or what you do.

NCT and the people that work and volunteer for the charity, are friendly, supportive and clear that EVERYONE is welcome.

A glimpse of the future…

Head of KnowledgeLast week, I had a glimpse of the future. Several in fact. And it felt good!

As part of NCT’s Leadership Team, much of my time over the past 18 months has been spent listening and learning, planning and iterating, developing and delivering… on our strategic plans and projects. And sometimes – whether head down at a desk, battling with budget templates, or having difficult conversations about pace and progress – sometimes, it can be easy to lose sight of what we’re working towards. The real reason we’re all here – to help more and more expectant and new parents get the support they need, and to have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and new parenthood.

Back in the Spring of 2016, I was thrilled to be one of the NCT Leadership Team facilitating the Common Purpose events for our volunteers, practitioners and staff across the UK. We developed a shared focus on our five core goals – to strengthen our core services, increase our reach to parents at greater risk of isolation, expand our support postnatally, modernise our image and build a stronger organisation to help make all of this happen. Together, as wonderfully engaged groups of volunteers, practitioners and staff, we discussed ideas for how we could achieve these goals. We listened hard and learnt so much, and all of these discussions fed into the development of our more detailed strategic plans for how we would make our goals a reality.

And then in the Spring of 2017, the rail network was well travelled again as we delivered #ourNCTstory workshops across the country. This time we talked through the more detailed work streams and plans that we’d worked hard to develop over the winter, and shared the early progress made. We discussed what it all meant for each other in our different roles and for parents, what the challenges and opportunities would be, and how we could all work together to make it happen.

All of this time was so energising, as is any of the time I spend with those directly supporting parents. From our shared focus on making a real difference for parents at their times of greatest need, to the very practical and creative ideas of how to do this, and the willingness to challenge ourselves and be open to change. All of this is what keeps me motivated and excited about being part of building a bright future for our charity.

We were clear from the outset that we had to focus first on building and strengthening, focusing on the bits people often don’t see but that are absolutely critical to running our charity safely, efficiently and effectively. Governance and planning, safeguarding, data and IT systems, monitoring and reporting… it’s a long list! And it’s not what gets most of us out of bed in the morning, is it? But without these strong foundations, we have little hope of doing and growing all the brilliant stuff for parents that we’re actually here to do.

And that brings me round to my glimpse of the future.

At the first Steering Group meeting for our IT transformation project (Project Lego!), I got to see the new system we’ll be putting in place. This is about meeting new data protection regulations, mitigating risks around our current systems, more efficient data collection and reporting…. But what I also saw was a vastly improved volunteer experience, better ways of connecting and engaging across our communities, and opportunities to demonstrate the value of our support to parents.

We might be focusing hard on strengthen and build, but it certainly is the route to reach and expand….. and to achieve so much more for so many more parents.

The quiet conversations

I’ve been inspired by time with volunteers and practioners in three very different branches this week.

Blessed with Sunday morning sunshine, the Newham Big Push in the Olympic Park raised funds for Parents in Mind. Newham (home to 104 different first languages) is one of the three areas we are piloting this programme. Parents in Mind sits alongside our #HiddenHalf campaign – underscoring the value of not ‘just’ asking government, the professions and public to do more, but simultaneously showing what we ourselves are doing directly for the cause. And in case you missed it, Parents in Mind just won an award from the Mental Health Foundation. But that’s not what I’m writing about now.

A phrase from our colleague Kelly (Newham branch coordinator) really stuck in my head: “we want to say it’s ok not to be ok.” Because it is, right? Alongside the joy and love of it all, most of us (I think) spend at least some of the time feeling like we’re uniquely failing. That we should be better and feeling better than we are. That we should exist in some kind of lovely John Lewis ad. Or at least not feel like this. So perhaps it’s more than just ok to say when we’re not ok. Perhaps it’s a core part of parenting. Seeing us all on Sunday, as families and neighbours gambolling around the river and grass in the sun, having fun and enjoying being with one another – and also perhaps confiding quietly and starting to walk a bit more confidently – it occurred to me that this big happy family walk wasn’t separate from the not-being-okayness of parenting. It’s bound up right alongside it.  Because here was a reminder (not that we need it) that we all need help at times in our lives and we all have something to give.

On Tuesday, I spent some time in Twickenham with our branch coordinator Vicky, student practitioner Lynethia and breastfeeding counsellors, Geraldine and Liz. Twickenham’s pretty different from Newham. But the power of supporting parents felt just the same. Once again I found myself in humbling awe of how real knowledge, gently put, just makes the world of difference. It’s not necessarily complicated. It’s just monumentally important. One woman fed-back recently, “Her guidance made us feel as if we had a road map at a point when we felt completely and utterly lost and I can’t stress enough what a huge difference this has made to us.” 23 years they’ve been there. Pretty much every week. Just the same. A monument to tenacity and love.

Now it’s Friday afternoon and I find myself on a train back from Cleethorpes. NCT Louth and Grimsby must be one of our smallest branches with 19 member households and 16 volunteers. Spread out over a big area, in a fairly isolated part of the country that (it’s fair to say) doesn’t have stacks of money coming in, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens might be quietly changing worlds here too. Vicky, Ruth, Emma, Johny, Rebecca, Truddi, Margaret – thank you. This summer they fundraised for a feeding and changing tent and went around all the festivals. But of course it’s not about the tent. It’s about the mum who comes to bumps and babies now because of the gang she found in the tent. It’s about the father of twins, out for the first time on his own with his toddlers looking stressed and at the end of his tether finding a friendly face and chat – and, who knows, perhaps the confidence to do it all again after all. It’s about the family who followed NCT around four festivals knowing we’d be there – when before they said they never really went out as a family.

These are the quiet conversations. This is what we do. This is who we are. These are the quiet conversations. And they lift us up.

From Board to breastfeeding: Confessions of an NCT Chair

Jess, NCT Chair, and Prunella, NCT FounderLast week marked my first 100 days as NCT’s Chair of Trustees. In recent years NCT has tended to appoint its Chairs externally, so I’m fairly unusual being not only an elected trustee but also a serving practitioner (breastfeeding counsellor).

But I’m not the only one who wears several hats. Because NCT is a movement of many tribes. Being part of NCT means being part of an ongoing conversation with thousands of people – about how we work together, the strength of our relationships, and what it means to be part of a group. Sometimes that conversation feels warm and supportive. And sometimes there is conflict, and it’s uncomfortable.

So it’s good to remember what we all share in common; volunteers, practitioners, staff – and trustees too.

Learning and growing
As practitioners know, it’s not always easy to hear feedback. But we know feedback is important. It’s part of how we learn and grow. Part of being accountable to those whom we serve.

Trustees also learn by listening. Public expectations of charities and trustees have changed a lot in recent years. Good governance is a journey, not a destination.

NCT’s 60th year has been an unusual one for Board, and emotional. We said goodbye to some long-serving trustees, commissioned a major governance review, and did a lot of listening to volunteers, practitioners and staff across the UK.

We’re now in an important cycle of reflection, as we embed what we’ve learnt in Board’s everyday ways of working. Next year we’ll formally evaluate how we’re doing, including – for the first time – trustee appraisals. We’re creating a new Board development plan with time for trustee training, reflection and self-evaluation.

And to make sure we don’t stop listening, trustees now have a formal duty to consider the views of all NCT stakeholders.

Good group working

Good groupwork is part of good governance.

As volunteers know, teams achieve more when they’re diverse and inclusive, because their members can bring many different skills to the table. As antenatal practitioners know, it takes skill to build a group in which all members feel able to openly share their views and concerns.

Openness and trust are crucial in the boardroom, because trustees have what’s called collective responsibility. Legal responsibility for the charity is shared equally by all trustees, so decisions are taken by the whole group together. It’s never about a few heroic individuals. Every trustee must be heard, as we debate and work together to build consensus.

With a common understanding of our responsibilities, and what we’re trying to achieve together, we can foster the behaviours that will help us be the very best we can for NCT.

How do you feel about being part of NCT and its many groups? I’d love to hear your story.

Recognising excellence

Cathy Finlay, Education ManagerMy own NCT story goes back over nearly three decades as a mother, more than two decades as a practising NCT antenatal teacher, and more than a decade as a tutor. So as the NCT Education Manager now, I feel grounded not only in education but also in practice.

Since working with the University of Worcester our practitioner training has evolved and we’ve just completed the first year of the newly validated programme. So we were delighted to discover the new structure had brought with it the unexpected side benefit of making our students eligible for their Academic Achievement Scholarships. This was a particular surprise since we knew nothing about them until we were told our students had been awarded not just one but eight awards of £1,000 each!

These scholarships are awarded automatically to those students who have excelled academically throughout the year. For the entire Institute of Health and Society (which we are a part of) a total of 24 Academic Scholarships have been awarded. Therefore, to have eight of these go to our NCT level 4 students is amazing, and we are incredibly proud of them.

As Education Manager, I’m responsible for the running of the programme, so although I no longer work directly with the students – apart from at induction, which I love – I do hear about and see their struggles, their successes and their achievements. I see all their grades as I take them through exam boards, I see how hard they work, and how hard their tutors work to support and guide them through. We know our students are committed, passionate and enthusiastic, and it’s fantastic to have this celebrated publicly in such a way by the University.

We wanted to share this success more widely, so we asked the awardees to tell us about their experience of studying and what this scholarship has meant to them. This is what some of them they told us…

Rachel Brown, NCT studentRachel Brown said: “I am delighted to have been awarded this scholarship. A year ago I started this course very nervous; nervous about what I was signing up for, nervous of who I would meet, and nervous about returning to study when I had responsibilities as a mother. A year later I am so glad I pursued this and I am very proud of what I and everyone I have met along the way have achieved over the past year. I have learnt so much that will help me when working with parents, but I have also learnt lots about myself that helps me in being a wife and a mother. I am really looking forward to level 5!”

Billie Woodcraft, NCT studentBillie Woodcraft said: “I was absolutely delighted to receive an academic achievement scholarship from the University of Worcester. Studying to be an NCT practitioner has been a life changing experience so far – I have learnt more than I could have imagined and have met inspiring women both in training and already practicing who are passionate about supporting parents. I am really looking forward to getting stuck into level 5 this year.”

Carla Garner, NCT studentCarla Garner said: “At age 55 I was hesitant at first to embark on my first degree course but was passionate about empowering parents and now I’m so glad I did. I can’t believe what I’ve learned already. It has been demanding work and a rollercoaster at times but the subjects have been fascinating and really got me delving deeper. The tutors have been brilliant and really inspired me to have faith in my abilities. It is certainly never too late to find your passion! Thank you all so much!”

Laura Wadley, NCT studentLaura Wadley said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been given an academic achievement award by the University of Worcester. Whilst studying at level 4 for the Birth and Beyond Foundation degree was challenging, I loved every minute of it. This award is such a wonderful way to celebrate that. I am excited to continue my studies at level 5 with NCT and UW, but would like to take this opportunity to thank the endless tutors, NCT practitioners and students who have been enormously supportive this year.”

Nina Phipps, NCT studentsNina Phipps said: “Being awarded a scholarship from the University of Worcester for my excellent academic achievements in my Level 4 studies was unexpected, but has made me feel very proud. I attribute my achievements mainly to having enjoyed every minute of studying Level 4 of the Birth and Beyond Foundation degree (along with a fair share of hard work thrown in on my part as well!). The enjoyment comes from the tutors making each study day interactive, stimulating and thought provoking and them creating such a positive and supportive environment. It is also because of the wonderful peers that I have been fortunate enough to share last year with.”

Dawn Gilbert, NCT student

Dawn Gilbert said: “I am delighted to have been awarded this scholarship. It came as a complete surprise after a year of trying to keep on top of full-time study as well as two very active under 5s. In my opinion we are all worthy of an award, as studying alongside other life struggles, is pretty challenging at times. This degree is an amazing way of meeting a wide group of super supportive people and reminds me that women can do anything if they put their minds to it! Thank you again and to all the level 4s out there, work as hard as you can and you can get through it with flying colours.”

Studying can be a challenge, particularly when (as is the case for many of our students) you have children, other work, and often complicated and busy lives. So it’s good to hear what a positive effect taking that leap of faith can be.

Many congratulations once again to all those awarded this scholarship, and indeed to all our students. We are very proud of each and every one of you.

My Alice in Wonderland moment

Having been with NCT now for just over a year, I thought it a good opportunity to take a moment and reflect on my time here to date, to look back at my initial observations (and how wrong most of them were) and to share my hopes and fears for the future.

I sometimes describe joining NCT as an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ moment, where everything in my world turned upside down; where I had to rapidly unlearn and relearn plenty in order to make sense of a topsy-turvy world. And make no mistake, I mean all of this in a good way!

You see, I came from a world of big bureaucracy, of central government, of programme boards, politics, and teams where too many prioritised jockeying for position over public service. And whilst my time with the British Red Cross was different again, the size of the organisation and the legacy of operating internationally for over 150 years sometimes meant that focusing on the person in crisis was quite a challenge. So joining the NCT movement was a breath of fresh air, with thousands of committed, passionate (and very vocal!) individuals coming together to achieve one thing – supporting parents through the first 1,000 days. I felt, and still feel, so freed up from stifling bureaucracy that holds back improvement, initiative and innovation. It’s so energising to work alongside people who care, who are part of NCT because they want to make a difference. It’s something I think we as a movement often underestimate and is clearly one of our biggest assets – the focus we have and the real simplicity of what we are here for.

This leads me to probably the greatest incorrect assumption I made on joining NCT – that we are a complex organisation. Spending time with volunteers, helping out at Nearly New Sales, at practitioner study days, with students at the University of Worcester, at the homes of PSAs, I found it easy to get weighted down in differences, bogged down in processes and in the complexity of the roles we all play in the movement. But as I have got to know NCT more I now realise, as our founder Prunella Briance always knew, that “it’s really rather simple”. We are all in our various roles supporting parents over the first 1,000 days through providing knowledge, networks and voice. I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind as we think about what is needed for the decades ahead.

I still standby my initial observation, that we have too much complexity in some of our processes and ways of working. And in spending time with staff teams, practitioners, volunteers and the Board of Trustees, I’ve grown to appreciate this year that some of our over-engineered ways are the direct result of a passion for supporting parents, for doing the right thing and for bending the ‘system’ to find a way of helping. I’m so thrilled when we find ways of doing things better that keep this passion at the heart of NCT. I really hope that we can find ways of simplifying our processes, standardising the quality of what we do and better sharing this throughout the movement. Many strands of work in our forward agenda strategy rely on this approach and it’s been great this year to see the Board, Executive Team and Leadership Team begin to make in-roads on making this happen.

It was an amazing coincidence to be taking part in one of the #ourNCTstory events on the anniversary of my joining NCT – watch one here if you missed out. Being with this group of committed volunteers, parents, practitioners and staff made me feel so proud to be in Wonderland and to realise that I have more to learn.

Back to school

Nick Wilkie, Chief Executive of NCTThere was no better way to come back after a wonderful holiday with my home team than spending two late summer days in cider country. (At five and three – twice – the smalls still just about think I’m good at stuff, find me funny not embarrassing and want to spend all the time we possibly can together: I’m really not expecting to take well to the whole growing-up thing.)

On the Wednesday I spent the day with 132 new students, starting out with our fabulous tutors and colleagues at Worcester. As I said to them then, it’s one of my favourite days of the year. Because, as Henry James once said of educators everywhere, ‘who knows where their influence will end; a good teacher effects eternity.’ That’s a big claim. But think about it. It’s true. Standing in front of a packed room of would-be NCT practitioners, eager, energetic, thirsty for knowledge and new ideas is uplifting. In part because here come the future. And because it’s extraordinary to reflect on how many births and lives these women will support and transform.

students at NCT inductions 2017

Three more reasons to be cheerful.

This is the most number of students we have ever taken on – itself testament to real team working across our marketing, practice and education teams.

The diversity of background and perspective amongst the intake is stark.

“I’m passionate about supporting women at what can be a vulnerable time.’

“I’m loving the NCT induction 2017 – so many wonderful women here to learn and help empower other women (and men) on their journey into parenthood.’

“I’m here because my own NCT practitioner was one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met.’

Then on to hang out with the wonderfully welcoming (and frankly plain wonderful) NCT Malvern Hills, shadowing a great antenatal course in the evening before walking up the Malverns in the morning. Walking up a hill together reminded me that friendship isn’t a nice-to-have. And it beats sitting at a desk on a Thursday morning. As does spending time at the branch’s breastfeeding drop-in and hearing from new mothers and fathers about the difference our support is making. Then lunch and ideas with more volunteers and practitioners. The importance of unforced togetherness in early parenting, of a little bit of knowledge and a lot of social network ran like a red thread throughout. So much of what we do and want to develop is complex and contested. But a lot of it isn’t. Knowledge and networks: parenting staples.

Malvern Hills NCT branch

At the risk of embarrassing them further, one thing also struck me in Malvern. It didn’t feel at all like I’d met some practitioners and some volunteers. I’d just met NCT. There was such overlap between antenatal course, Breastfeeding Counsellor led drop-in and branch-led walk, it felt just seamless. Cue, I’m sure, my inbox filling up with many saying how it works like this in your part of the work too. But we know in places it doesn’t. I think I’ve been around enough to understand recent history. And of course that might be because the branch is sadly dormant (more on the new and expanded volunteering team anon). So looking ahead, my question is this: what do I and colleagues need to do differently and better to help bring volunteers and practitioners consistently together? Because of many joyous reflections from a short-trip westwards, connectedness counts.

What have you done this year to make you feel proud…?

Sam, NCT's Executive Director of Communications and DevelopmentA very good friend of mine loves to embarrass his teenage boys by belting out his personal rendition of Heather Small’s ‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?’ They usually look like they want the earth to open up and swallow them whole when this happens.

But it’s a great question, right?

A couple of weeks ago we were driving back from our summer holidays in Devon, two weeks of glorious seaside, fish and chips and two-penny slot machines behind us, and I couldn’t help reflecting on the past year, as I thought about coming back to work. All the time Heather Small playing in my mind: ‘What have you done this year to make you feel proud…?

I asked this question of many staff, volunteers and practitioners earlier in the summer as the opening icebreaker in the #ourNCTstory events we ran. Many of you brought me to tears (within ten minutes of the meeting starting) with your individual stories of support for parents across the year. And as a movement, when you accumulate those individual and group acts of kindness, they really do stack up. Just one example – in 2016-17, 277 NCT breastfeeding counsellors supported new parents through some 26,800 one-to-one sessions entirely free of charge. That’s a hell of a lot of new parents feeling more confident about feeding their tiny newborns – because of you.

So what have I done this year that I’m proud of? I’ve joined a new and brilliant team of people that I love, I’ve taken on a new brief, and I’ve worked through some pretty gnarly issues as we begin to strengthen and build the organisation that is NCT.

But I think the thing that stands out the most – because it’s been a genuinely cross-team piece of work that I’ve been a part of and one that I really think will make a difference to hundreds of new parents – has been announced today.

NCT has been successful in securing funding from the Early Years Social Action Fund, run by global innovation foundation Nesta and supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to increase the reach of our Birth and Beyond Community Supporter Programme.

Nesta is undertaking a programme to scale the most promising approaches that use social action to help support parents to help children achieve developmental milestones, so that when they later go on to start school they have the best possible chance of succeeding. Nesta are doing this with support from the Office of Civil Society through the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

This means that NCT will receive £225k worth of funding to train 220 volunteers who will support a similar number of new mothers across 5 regions of England, in our Birth and Beyond Community Supporter programme. We will be working closely with local partners including a school and housing associations to enable us to reach these ambitious numbers so quickly in each area. Nesta will also provide support and advice on how to ensure that we have the evidence in place to attract ongoing funding for the secure long term support for parents in these areas.

The reasons I, and all of us, should be proud of this are many. But there are three I’d like to name.

One. Nesta care about impact. They work hand in hand with organisations to help them build, shape and interrogate their theory of change. This is awesome for NCT as we strive to work out the most effective ways of reaching out to and working with parents that wouldn’t ordinarily get support from us. This partnership with Nesta will enable us to really interrogate the work we do through peer support and learn how to improve it for parents and for their children.

Two. We’ve been through a highly competitive and robust bid process. Being chosen by Nesta as having one of the most promising social action approaches to improving children’s development is no small matter. It’s a ringing endorsement of the work already done by many within NCT over the years and now to understand peer support and to shape this programme so it can have impact and be cost-effective at the same time.

And three. The bid process, which ran over the course of a couple of months early this summer, really showed me that we’re getting better at working together at NCT. If one of our challenges as a Leadership Team is to tackle silo working and build better relationships across teams, then we’re really making progress. With the brilliant Anna Maddox, Head of Partnerships at NCT, putting her arms around the whole process, individuals from all departments and many teams pulled out all the stops to develop the theory of change for the programme, shape the volunteer recruitment, training and delivery plan, find and secure partner organisations and interrogate the budget.

And now the real challenge begins…delivering a programme of peer support through 220 new volunteers across five regions, learning from it, and working out how to sustain it once the partnership with Nesta is complete. As we get into this, we’ll be looking for practitioners to deliver peer support training and for volunteers to take on peer support roles, so please do look out for updates if you’d like to be a part of the programme.

It’s an incredible opportunity for NCT. And one to be proud of.