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Swindon SEND Community Connected (Low Investment High Impact Services for Family Hubs)

In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the development of Family Hubs.

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In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the development of Family Hubs. A webinar was held on the 9th May 24 sharing ideas about how a small amount of investment can result in high impact services, and in particular where parents and carers are engaged in design and delivery. 

This case study outlines the journey Swindon Borough Council and a group of parents and carers in Swindon took, to establish what is now a highly successful group.

In 2022 consultant was commissioned by Swindon Borough Council to support a project looking at joining the dots between the councils out of school childcare duties, holiday activities and food program, and short breaks provision. An outcome from the work was a small amount of consultancy time being dedicated to supporting the start-up of what is now Swindon SEND community connected.

The challenges

During the initial project families of children with SEND were asked about the provision of activities for school-age children during school holidays. Whilst a range of gaps were identified including childcare for families to work, a stark finding was that families of children with SEND in general found it almost impossible to take part in everyday activities that other families might. 

One parent for example described spending a lot of time during the summer holidays with their child in the back of the car, simply driving around Swindon looking for a park or playground which was secure enough for their child to play in, and empty enough that the parent would not feel intimidated by other children and families.

Like other areas Swindon Borough Council have very little resource to deliver such services, so a development approach was adopted by the consultant who worked remotely for just four days of time in total over an eight-month period.

The solutions

During 2023 the consultant remained in contact with one parent in particular who had been consulted about her challenges. Jenny Watts was a driving force behind setting up what is now a successful group. The consultant supported Jenny and in time a small but highly motivated group of parents and carers to simply let families know about a potential project.

The first activity was simply a meet up in the Coate Water Park during the summer holiday in 2023. The park were very supportive and flyers were distributed to families locally through  families, the council and partners. A successful meet up was held and momentum created for more events. 

The next steps involved creating a Facebook group which was set up by a parent volunteer recruited by a parent outreach worker.  The group was literally an overnight success growing rapidly to several hundred members which spoke volumes about the need for activities and support locally.

As popularity grew the group were next supported to consider management models for formalising activity. It was evident very early that demand was high for the group, and a groundswell of support from a small group of movers and shakers was apparent.

More activities are planned to include “weekly walks” and youth clubs/discos, again activities which can be impossible without peer support. 


The Facebook group now reaches over 500 families and every school holiday since that first event summer 2023, play days and meet ups have been delivered. Often the activities are at little or no cost due to some amazing negotiation skills by Jenny and the families involved. Halloween and Christmas parties have taken place in church halls offered for free with donated prizes.

Not only does the group enable children with SEND and their families to take part in activities which would otherwise be impossible, they are also supporting a more inclusive activity provider market in general. 

One parent reported that a non SEND child had spoken at her local primary school about the experience at Coate Water and how positive it was for all of us to be inclusive.

The families involved in the project report a series of benefits that impact on their lives.

  • The opportunity for children and families together to enjoy new experiences, activities, and skills they would not otherwise be able to take part in. Often these are activities the families of children without SEND will be able to take for granted.
  • Connections and friendships, in particular peer support from people who understand the difficulties that parents and carers face.
  • Support from other families when out and about enjoying the activities. Families often report they wouldn’t dream of going to a theme park for example on their own, but with a group it just becomes possible. For example, if one child is having a difficult (and loud) time, other families simply circle round and provide protection as well as support.
  • SEND Community Connected also provides informal advocacy through a very popular Facebook group closed to its members. 
  • Parents and carers who get involved in the organisation of the group report the positive impacts of being part of positive change. It can be incredibly disempowering trying to navigate services and support as a parent carer, being part of a solution and change for all families of children with SEND can be hugely empowering.

How is the approach being sustained?

In spring 2024 the consultant supported the development of a check list for registering as a Community Interest Company, and provided draft documentation all of which is now being worked through by Jenny and her team of parent carers.

The group will register as a community interest company in order to be able to apply for funding, support a more formal infrastructure, potentially employ staff and offer more regular activities to more families of children with SEND. 

Lessons learned

The group was formed on the back of a huge gap in support, but it was formed by Jenny and a group of highly motivated parent carers who worked incredibly hard to organise and facilitate change. 

Just four days of consultancy time was committed by the council to support the start-up of what is a highly successful group already. The consultancy time was used to coordinate remote meetings, advise on the start-up process, engage the right partners, introduce the group to a similar group who had successfully been running in Cornwall for over ten years (Cornwall Accessible Activities Programme), and facilitate action planning for the group to then develop and now own themselves.

When asked what would make the difference in setting something similar up in other areas, the answer was simple, a little bit of resource and support, can go a very, very long way.


Ann Van Dyke MBE
Freelance Consultant
Tel: 07718124076
Email: [email protected]