Young fathers go to Centre Parcs

30 March 2005

WHAT:   A two-day residential weekend for young parents
WHERE:  Centre Parcs, Nottingham
AGENCY: Sure Start Plus, Nottingham
FUNDING: Teenage Pregnancy Unit Small Grants Scheme

Over the past few years, Sure Start Plus Nottingham (a specialist service working with teenage parents) has had considerable contact with young fathers, developing a range of strategies to engage with them and increase their visibility. Some interventions have been systemic – such as lobbying local YOIs to log their young clients’ parental status. Others have been personal and individual – from devising customized action plans to support young fathers in custody (as well as their child/ren and family outside), to weekend ‘residentials’ for young couples at Nottingham’s own holiday resort, Centre Parcs.

The focus of the Centre Parcs weekends is fathers’ issues in relation to the young couples’ experiences of pregnancy, birth and the months that follow. The first residential (funding has now been obtained for a second) was attended by seven couples (some living together, some not) and four advisors (two female, two male – and also a good mix in terms of age and ethnicity).

Four adjacent Centre Parcs villas were booked. Inteach was an advisor and two young couples – one with their infant, the other still pregnant. The young families were given free time to take part in some of the many activities on site, with mobile phones calling them back at important times. Clear ground rules were established, with the ‘ability to take action if needed’. For example, a taxi could be used to transport them back.

Within the villas there was much informal discussion and small-group-work, building into two large group work sessions, involving everyone. One of these workshops was with all the partners together – but focusing on the roles and expectations of fathers. The other workshop was with the young fathers alone. This gave the young men the unique opportunity of exploring their feelings in a safe environment, while listening to other young men who had gone through, and were going through, similar experiences. The groups were expertly run: the evaluation showed that all the participants were clear about what the workshops were for; challenging by the advisors was ‘very well done in all areas’; and flexibility within the structure allowed the work to be ‘needs led’. Music in the men’s workshop was experienced as ‘powerful and thought- provoking’.

The value of this intervention does not lie in it as a ‘one off’ activity. The organizers saw it as only one event in a pattern of ongoing support. The advisors already knew the young people well – they knew their backgrounds, their circumstances, and had been working with them for some time. This meant that the young people already feel quite comfortable, and this enables them to participate more fully in group work. The advisor-client relationship is seen as key to the weekend’s success; in fact, the organizers intend to focus even more on it next time.
‘There are great benefits in taking young people off into different environments’ says Project Leader, David Head: ‘and it was really the captive nature of the audience over the weekend away made the group work possible’. The mix of expectant/new couples per villa is also important. Positive role modeling was observed, with the young fathers able to meet some of the child’s needs. The relaxed, family-orientated, activity-based atmosphere of Centre Parcs provided an excellent setting, and reinforced key messages. There was also plenty to do and plenty of young people around so the young parents did not feel bored or cut off from their peers.

Additional funding has been obtained to edit video footage taken during the Centre Parcs residential – and this is seen as a valuable part of the evaluation. ‘Through the use of video, tape recordings and photographs, a lot of the informal learning can be captured’.

Ideas for future residentials inclue a communal meal, prepared and cooked by all (barbecue? Breakfast? Late night food?); longer time (an additional night’s stay?); a games workshop (to build trust/relationships); a disposable camera (for each couple to record a visual diary for themselves) and a collection of songs on family/fatherhood to use – and to give out

Contact: David Head,
Sure Start Plus Nottingham
Sycamore Business Centre
31 Hungerhill Rd, St Anne’s
Tel: 0115 912 9287