HeadStart National Conference 26-27 January: an overview

Raynal Somiah
4 Feb 2015

YoungMinds hosted a two-day national conference on 26 and 27 January 2015 as part of the Big Lottery Funded HeadStart programme.

Over a 100 delegates attended the event in London, with most coming from the twelve HeadStart local area partnerships across England. Some came as far as Cumbria and Cornwall and were treated to keynote speeches by international resilience expert Dr. Michael Ungar and Children’s Minister Sam Gyimah.

The Big Lottery Fund launched HeadStart, a £75m programme in England, in 2013 which aims to build the emotional resilience of young people in the key 10-14 year age group, as well as develop the evidence base for what works in preventing mental health problems.

YoungMinds is leading a consortium that includes boingboing/University of Brighton and Achievement for All to support the local HeadStart areas in their current delivery and future planning.

The conference provided opportunity for the local areas to reflect on the ambitions of the HeadStart programme particularly around developing an ecological approach to building emotional resilience whilst achieving sustainable change.

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, chaired and opened the two-day event. Speaking ahead of the conference, she noted that:

“We are delighted to be working with BIG and local area partnerships on this new, ground-breaking initiative that will make a difference to thousands of young people’s lives. We are confident that our consortium will provide the expert support and challenge that the local partnerships need to excel and to make this project really deliver.”

Steve Richards, HeadStart Committee Chair, gave an extended welcome and enthused all about the potential that HeadStart has to make significant changes for young people. He talked about the importance of innovation and ensuring that young people remain at the heart of this programme.  


HeadStart young people in workshop


Young people from the local areas took advantage of bespoke workshops and activities that were co-delivered by some of the HeadStarters, a network of young people that are working alongside the support consortium. HeadStarters is an ongoing opportunity for young people to be involved in. The conference provided the platform to get more on board!


The first day was spent reviewing the last six months in local HeadStart programmes and thinking about emerging themes and challenges respectively. Delegates also had the chance to hear from the team who are leading the national evaluation of Stage 2 of HeadStart. Dr. Jessica Deighton of the Anna Freud Centre gave an update on the measures and methods for this national evaluation.

The greatly anticipated talk from Dr. Michael Ungar on measuring resilience across cultures and contexts followed lunch. He spoke about the complexities to achieving systemic change to make young people more resilient.

Next up was Children’s Minister Sam Gyimah who noted that ‘we all have a duty to support the next generation and prepare them for life’. The Minister expressed great enthusiasm for HeadStart and was encouraged by what the programme is trying to achieve.

Delegates spent remainder of the first day in workshops led by the National Evaluation team, Support and Development consortium and HeadStarters network, followed by an evening programme that included a powerful performance by Chickenshed.

Day Two 

Day two kicked off with some thoughts and reflections on the day before. Dr. Michael Ungar delivered an inspiring and impassioned talk about ecological approaches to resilience with international perspectives on making large programmes work that provided much food for thought. He noted that resilience is the capacity to navigate and negotiate for the resources needed to do well and touched upon the nine things all children need to be resilient: structure, consequences, parent-child connections, strong relationships, a powerful identity, a sense of control, belonging, rights and responsibilities, safety and support.

The conference was closed with collective reflections on the opportunities, challenges and thoughts on ways to keep the momentum going. Steven from Lewisham and Ellie from Kent updated all about what they and the other young people had been working on over the last two days. They emphasized the importance of reaching out to a diverse range of young people and about thriving not just surviving!

Delegate comments

Michael was inspirational and we will benefit hugely from his talks and research. It’s really exciting to be part of HeadStart."

Thanks for the genuine dialogue about how we can work together."

Young people commentS

The young people’s workshop was fun."

HeadStarters workshops were very useful - very good explanation of resilience for those new to the project."

All info has been useful and made (the) HeadStart project make sense."

HeadStart young people in audience

See also

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