South Bristol children are ‘Learning to Lead’

Since its establishment in 1998, Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership (HWCP) has worked to tackle inter-generational health and poverty-related issues in the area, giving a voice to its residents to engage with the rest of Bristol.

Hartcliffe and Withywood is in the 10 per cent most disadvantaged areas in the country. Over half of children in the estate live in income-deprived households, while persistent absenteeism across the area’s primary schools is more than twice the national average. Young people on the estate often exhibit low aspirations and self-esteem, and the most vulnerable often suffer much higher-than-average school exclusion rates at secondary school.

Over more than 20 years, HWCP has worked alongside a wide range of local and national organisations to broaden the horizons and raise the aspirations of the residents, and specifically of its children. Amongst others, it has built partnerships with South Bristol Youth, Avon and Somerset Police, Wild Place, SS Great Britain, Travelling Light Theatre and Bristol City Football Foundation.

In June 2021 the charity approached SMV to support its plans for a long-term project to achieve a real change in prospects for local young people to enable them to become actively involved in their community. SMV provided a grant of £13,000 for the project’s initial phase between September 2021 and August 2022.

The ‘Learning to Lead’ initiative aimed to engage 48 primary school children in Years 4 to 6 at Hareclive Primary School and Bridge Learning Campus, and support seven children to transition to Merchants’ Academy, through school-based and holiday programmes. Children deemed to be at high risk of future persistent absenteeism, in the criminal justice system or at pupil referral units, exhibiting poor behaviour or showing signs of low confidence, were referred by their schools and invited to join the programme. Its objectives were to improve the children’s school attendance, build their personal confidence and skills, and increase their understanding of how to work with others.

The programme also sought wider community outcomes, such as reducing antisocial behaviour and encouraging greater participation in community activities, as well as supporting parents and carers to understand the importance of school attendance and the value of school as a community.

Bespoke to each year group, a range of sessions were designed to broaden the children’s horizons, including:

Memory books, which focus on helping the children reflect on their learning and what they enjoyed about the programme so far;

Community roles, where the children have been introduced to the emergency services and interacted with local services such as care homes, with the aim that they gain an increased appreciation and respect for how these services support their local community;

Bristol Icons landmark trail, which emphasises a sense of ownership of the wider city. The children have visited Concorde, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, seen Banksy and other street art installations, as well as viewed their estate in South Bristol from the high perspective of Brandon Hill. Many of the children have never been out of Hartcliffe before and this has been a very exciting part of the programme for them.

‘Your Future’ events which encourage the children to gain an understanding of future career options and the world of work. The younger children have benefited from an ‘Engineering Curiosity’ workshop hosted by the University of the West of England (UWE), while the older children chose to visit the Underfall Yard on an employer visit. Older children have also mentored the children in the year below them via a ‘Video Stars’ activity, where they created videos about what to expect in Year 7 when they reach secondary school.

Outdoors team building events, to improve communication, leadership and problem-solving skills amongst the children, such as visiting the local BMX track, a trip to the Mendip Hills and a circus skills and physics workshop. These events have also broadened the children’s horizons as to potential new hobbies and interests.

Family engagement, introducing parents to the programme and building a sense of mutual cooperation, with an invitation to the end-of-year event, where each child is presented with their memory book and a certificate to celebrate their achievements.

Participants on the Learning to Lead programme also benefit from out-of-school activities organised by a Social Action Youth Worker, which enable the children to make new friends and take up new hobbies. By attending these sessions during the holidays, children have also benefitted from free meals, which has provided extra support to parents and carers. These activities were developed alongside HWCP’s ongoing work with local residents and community organisations to provide sports and arts activities, as well as opportunities to get involved in youth leadership projects, for 250 children and young people.

Learning to Lead is ongoing, but HWCP is proud of how much it has achieved already. The programme has helped 72 children, a third more than was originally planned. The children are already exhibiting greater confidence and skills, and their attendance at school has also shown a marked improvement. The children’s enhanced outlook will serve them well as they start their journey in secondary school, with a greater awareness of not only what their community does to support them, but also what they can do to support their community.

“I didn’t know what to expect at first but Learning to Lead is so much fun. I learn loads of different stuff that I might not have known. There’s only a small group of us so it’s less hectic. I’m trying harder in school now; even if I’m ill I tell mum I don’t want to miss Learning to Lead days.”


Learning to Lead participant

“Lockdown has been emotionally and mentally hard for my family. Learning to Lead has helped Elliot with something to look forward to – time away from a screen and a chance to do something practical. He has enjoyed the Bristol Icons visits and learned many new things and it has been educational for us all as we looked up Brunel and other things about Bristol together. The Learning to Lead programme has been great – thank you!”

A parent’s feedback

Year 4 schoolchildren received a visit from a local Fire Service
Year 5 schoolchildren working on their memory books