The journey from Make Chatter Matter to Hello – by Anita Kerwin-Nye, outgoing Director of The Communication Trust

I was working for I CAN, as Director of Communications, when the seeds for The Communication Trust were sown.

Working closely with Virginia Beardshaw, Chief Executive of I CAN, we ran the incredible Make Chatter Matter campaign, which firmly put children’s communication on the policy and media agenda.

In the wake of the Bercow Review, which the voluntary sector had successfully lobbied for, professionals were reporting a lack of confidence and knowledge in supporting children’s communication development and identifying when children were struggling.

I CAN was brave enough to recognise that no one organisation could effectively reach the children’s workforce; a collaborative approach was essential. With Afasic, BT and the Council for Disabled Children (CDC), The Communication Trust was formed and in its first few years it was recognised by the Cabinet Office as a model of best practice.

Starting with eight members, in five years the Trust has  grown to nearly 50 voluntary organisations representing the biggest voices in speech, language and communication.

When the Trust led the national year of communication (known as the Hello campaign) in partnership with Jean Gross CBE, I CAN’s support made a big difference.

The successful Chatterbox Challenge became the first milestone Hello event in February 2011 and locally  was one of the most popular months of the national year calendar. Nearly 300,000  children registered to take part and we smashed the Guinness World Record for the largest mass sing-along.

Recently, an innovative intervention Talk Boost was launched to much excitement. Developed as part of the wider A Chance to Talk programme by  I CAN and the Trust, with support from the Every Child a Chance Trust, Talk Boost helps children aged 4-7 with language delay to make progress. We are delighted that  children  who took part in the programme, made on average 18 months worth of progress in just ten weeks, making a real difference to their ability to communicate in the classroom and wider school environment.

This is a great example of two organisations collaborating  to provide solutions to  a well documented issue, which when left unsupported hinders children’s life chances.

When I first came to the speech and language sector, parents were battling a system where their child’s speech, language and communication needs were regularly being misunderstood, misinterpreted and, in the worst cases, just missed altogether.

We still have a long way to go but things are improving. Another project that I CAN and the Trust have collaborated on is Communication Ambassadors, which we are creating a national network of volunteers – many of them parents – that champion speech and language issues in their local community.

Leaving the Trust is difficult because it is such a great organisation but as the next five year strategy is finalised, it feels like the right time to move on.

Looking back at the achievements of I CAN and The Communication Trust leaves me with great pride. Thanks to all of you who have supported our work or inspired us to tackle this issue in different ways – in just five years we have come so far.

Here’s to the next five years!

To keep in touch with Anita, you can follow her on Twitter here www.twitter.com/anitakntweets