Unabridged version: Families Fit for Life, Knowsley

Families Fit for Life, Knowsley


Delivery organisation

Homestart Knowsley and Knowsley Council


Big Lottery Fund (BIG) funding, programme value unknown

About the programme

The programme aims to provide families with skills to improve physical and mental health. The nine-week programme is delivered by volunteers who help support families with improvements in physical activity and their own mental wellbeing. Families can participate in group sessions to help them develop strategies for healthy eating, stress management and relaxation. Volunteers work with the families in the home setting, while continuing to be supported by Homestart Knowsley.

The Families Fit for Life programme is accessible by self-referral.

The big idea

Homestart, who lead the Families Fit for Life programme, works with families who experience difficulties and have children under five. Homestart had early discussions with Knowsley Council for Voluntary Services and the two organisations decided to work together to promote health and wellbeing to families accessing their services.

Setting up the project

Homestart were interested in helping families they worked with in a residential setting. The residential setting was a relaxed, woodland area, with crèche service and a lot of support for the family. It offered families the opportunity to participate in activities together and bond as a whole family. The managers from Homestart and Knowsley VCS developed a proposal and submitted it to Groundworks who allocated Big Lottery Fund (BIG) funding.

Knowsley VCS subsequently experienced financial problems and had to withdraw. In consequence, the project had to find a new site, which was family friendly. Homestart opted to use site run by a charity, the Barnstable activity center.

The project offers a number of sessions to the families, for instance, they brought bikes for family cycle trips, cooking activities to provide healthy eating options. They also provided courses for the parents such as stress-busting techniques and discussion about different forms of stress. Homestart also developed sessions specifically on wellbeing.

All the families that access this service live in Knowsley and have a child under five. A lot of the families access Homestart services alongside the Families Fit for Life programme. Other families opt to attend Families Fit for Life instead of accessing support from Homestart, which is sometimes seen as too intensive, or possibly rejected by families who do not want a volunteer in their home.

Homestart works with volunteers to deliver the programme. The majority of volunteers come from Knowsley and choose to work with the service to gain experience and help them into full time employment. The volunteers support the family to participate in the course while some help deliver the core service.

Each cohort of the programme has between 12 families and six families, with an average of eight to nine families per cohort. These families are supported by 32 volunteers who support Homestart as well as Families Fit for Life.

The programme no longer runs the residential element of the programme, but retains the family activities. The project only ran one residential because of resource constraints.

Nonetheless, Families Fit for Life continues to offer the core activities. This includes an activity day to promote family quality time. Activities can include a woodland walk, treasure hunt, and a family lunch together. The families also do wall climbing, abseiling, and team games.

Impact of the project

The programme is evaluated by the Public Health Observatory (PHO) and the project collects evaluation data using an entry and exit questionnaire. This includes data on healthy eating, physical activity and wellbeing.

The project manager suggested that families improve their confidence. The parents respond well to having time to themselves. Some parents have gone on to register on a college Access course or have decided to go back into employment. Fathers also respond well to the course and have a chance to communicate with their partners and their children.

The project has been delivered for five years. The initial project aim was to have 22 adult beneficiaries with three times the number of indirect beneficiaries, which includes partners and children. The project has exceeded this target year-on-year.

Top tips to replicate this project in your locality

You need to develop a rapport with the parents. They should feel comfortable and special.

Use external agencies for support. The project had useful support from Target Wellbeing, including support on accessing funds and completing monitoring forms.

Take photos of the parents throughout the project and give them photos of their journey so that they can see the changes and improvement in their demeanor.

Where next?

At present, funding runs out at the end of February 2012. Homestart are looking for new funding streams to tap into. The project manager would like to include other strands to the project, for instance 'Buggy Fit', a keep fit programme for mothers in the park.