Pembury Children's Community, East London

Following the English riots of 2011, the Pembury Estate in Hackney, east London, received significant amounts of bad press, focusing on ‘at risk’ young people who were painted as participating in the riots locally, exacerbating the stigma associated with the estate. In response, the chief executives of the Peabody Trust (the landlord) and Hackney council began to develop the Pembury Children’s Community, modelled on the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, with the aim of radically transforming outcomes for every child and young person living on the estate. The 10-year programme has three strategic areas of focus: the early years and primary school, secondary school and into adulthood, and support for parents. The Children’s Community has been up and running since 2014 and is now one of three Children’s Communities championed nationally by Save the Children.


Part of our Early intervention into action series of case studies on innovation and evaluation

Hackney’s story

Peabody has long been interested in pushing the boundaries of what housing associations can do to support outcomes for the families that live in their properties. In many ways housing is the universal service for families. Things that are happening in the home (such as debt, poor housing, domestic violence) are significant contributors to poor outcomes – and are often missed in discussions with schools or other services responding to children, young people and families facing challenges. Hackney is seeking to develop innovative ways to deliver public services and strengthen partnerships so that support for children and families is better coordinated and more focused toward prevention and early intervention. The council is also interested in the role and impact communities themselves have in sustaining a neighbourhood that enables children and families from all backgrounds to thrive.

Pembury is one of three Children’s Communities championed by Save the Children nationally. The Children’s Community is modelled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, an innovative sector leading coalition to improve outcomes for children and families in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City. The Children’s Communities Initiative facilitates the coming together of key agencies within disadvantaged localities to improve outcomes for children. It thus embodies a systems approach to overcoming disadvantage.

In its first two years (2015–17) more than 600 children and young people and more than 300 parents took part in the Children’s Community. The Community has a theory of change that focuses both on what the community and individuals can do for themselves and one another, as well as enhancing services and access to them. This theory of change is delivered through three areas of focus, each with a number of bespoke projects that are being delivered out of the strategic relationships that form the Children’s Community:

  • The early years and primary school: this includes family literacy, with free books every month for children up to 4 years old, as well as breakfast and after-school clubs. The biggest change in this strand to date is the relocation of the local Children’s Centre family services into the new Pembury Community Centre, offering sessions four days a week to families on the estate. The programme is also investing in additional outreach to families, growing the capacity of a local nursery and developing a ‘Ready for School’ project for Pembury children.
  • Secondary school and into adulthood: this includes a very successful youth club; a ‘Threads’ fashion project to help young women to improve their self-esteem, increase skills and confidence all while working towards an accreditation; and intensive coaching and one-to-one casework support for 16–24-year-olds who are NEET (not in employment, education or training) to enable them to progress.
  • Support for parents: this includes help to access employment including one-to-one support for job interviews and working life, adult learning courses including numeracy, literacy, IT and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), and a Parent Advisor service, which helps parents who want to develop their skills and explore their career options. There are also regular coffee mornings and a Dad’s group offering peer-to-peer support and joint planning of projects, as well as parenting courses.

Save the Children enables all three Children’s Communities sites to learn from each other and also from the ‘best in class’ of child development, including learning exchanges three times a year and a shared governance structure for the programme as a whole. A three-year evaluation by Sheffield Hallam University is now underway.

What is working well?

  • While it is still early days, the engagement of the community is strong, peer support networks are growing and professional partnerships are continuing to mature, particularly between housing, the children’s centre, local schools and the youth service, yielding new models of delivery beyond specific Children’s Community programmes.
  • A 2016 impact report prepared for the programme showed that the vast majority of residents felt that things had improved on the estate and that they felt very positive about being part of the Pembury community. The same report showed that for small groups of parents, early years initiatives had improved parents’ ability to work full-time, their relationships with their children and their confidence as parents.

What is hard or challenging?

  • Ensuring that the positive changes on Pembury begins to change the perception of the estate.
  • Finding sustainable ways to join up support for children and young people across their home, school and community lives takes time and requires a strong focus on the greatest levers of change in a complex local ‘system’.

What are the key lessons?

  • Housing is a vital part of any support system and is often under-represented in multi-agency forums focused on families.
  • There is a lot of hidden need, particularly for young people, and they need to trust a service or provision before engaging with it – once they do these hidden needs demand a response and highlight the way services need to be more cohesive and focused on prevention.

About the evaluation

Outcomes will be developed for each Children’s Community based on the specific theory of change in each area. A data dashboard will be developed to support this. The formal evaluation will look at numbers but also look at the drivers behind those changes – what worked and why.

The evaluation mixes quantitative and qualitative approaches. The data will be mapped to the Pembury theory of change. Instead of starting from a model of attribution the evaluation will itself aim to build up a model of attribution through understanding perceptions of the counterfactual and ways in which the Children’s Communities model has added value.

What were the conditions of the evaluation?

The aim is to bring together a number of different elements to inform the development of the Children’s Communities model and its  implementation, and to add to the field of early intervention evaluation:

  • interviews with stakeholders at different levels (see below), participatory methods, observation, documentary and social media analysis
  • developing data dashboards bringing together local administrative and other data to enable mapping of progress
  • preliminary analysis of costs and savings
  • supporting the development of local evaluation capacity.

Changes will be mapped at three levels:

  • The local area level: the structures and relationships between organisations, policy makers and change agents within the locale that can provide the circumstances for positive outcomes for children and young people in the area.
  • The organisational level: the cultures and processes, leadership and practices of key organisations working to improve outcomes for children and young people.
  • The beneficiary level: the experiences of children and young people, and their families, interacting with resources and practices aiming to improve opportunities and outcomes for them.

The evaluation attempts to deliver on three aims:

  • to provide rich learning and insight which will support Children’s Communities on their journey
  • to develop evaluative tools and approaches for the early intervention evaluation field
  • to understand the impact of Children’s Communities on the children and families in their communities, and the features of the model and its implementation through which it adds value.

What is hard or challenging about conducting an evaluation?

  • Getting a counterfactual and comparative areas in evaluations of local systems change: the priority at this stage is to have an evaluation that is supporting the Children’s Communities and is developmental.The team has found that each organisation is data-rich but not brought together in a coherent whole to support strategic decisions.
  • Ensuring evaluation reflects context in each place: a Children’s Community is a set of principles and approaches which then is taken into a local context and deployed and evolved as right for that local context and local needs.
  • The evaluation design is explicitly responding to these challenges – and is in itself a test to see if and how these challenges can be overcome. The evaluation is learning about the impact of Children’s Communities and looking to contribute to the field of evaluation of  systems change for children and young people.

What is useful about the evaluation?

While the evaluation is not yet in full swing, the evaluators have been working with the partnership to define a logic model which has proven very useful for the leadership and has enabled real clarity of purpose and ambition which can be lacking in programmes of this scale. In particular it has catalysed focus on the short and medium term – and how specific decisions, investments and priorities directly contribute to the long-term outcomes.