Phenomenal transformations in London
This past summer, I was part of something quite extraordinary! As a Programme Officer on the London FAST programme team, I took part in each of the eight weekly sessions and worked hard to support families to share food, sing together, meet new friends , and spend quality time with their children.
The transformation that FAST brought to parents and their children is phenomenal. As the weeks wore on, parents who were initially shy and not very communicative soon grew in confidence enough to introduce themselves and their children in front of over 100 people.
Parents reported that they now found it easy to communicate with school staff , and it was obvious that the participating families had grown closer and able to provide each other with mutual support. FAST had given families new skills for turning everyday activities into positive practices that improved family ties and stregthened relationships within families. Parents reported that they relished spending quality time alone with their children without any distractions.
An important feature of the FAST sessions is the ‘Door Prize’ — one family each week wins a hamper worth £25 with items for all family members. The same family will then be given some money to prepare and bring in food to the following week’s session. One of the most memorable things for me is the pure pride and joy I saw displayed on children’s faces when their parents brought in home cooked food for everyone. Praise is heaped on the family that has gone to so much effort to make dinner, but the ‘door prize’ isn’t just about getting a gift. As one mother pointed out, it’s about being trusted to give something back.
Parental empowerment underpins everything that happens within the FAST programme. Each activity recognises and respects the parents’ central role in their child’s life, and supports their status and authority within the family. As a result they feel confident and capable to work in partnership with schools to give their children the best start in life.
The last session of the weekly FAST programme, graduation day, was testament to how much parents and children had enjoyed taking part in the programme. Children and parents were so proud about completing the programme. Many turned up in traditional dress, adding colour and vibrance to the occasion. One parent even brought a metre-long cake!
It was so moving seeing families go up to collect their FAST certificates from the Headteacher and the founder of FAST with the confidence that comes from knowing their place as true partners in their children’s educational and social development.
For me, working on FAST has been an extremely gratifying experience. As we get ready to start another FAST in Islington, my goal is for the programme to become part of everyday school life across many more local authorities, bringing families closer, and supporting children to realise their true potential.