Mary Hartshorne I CAN Head Of Evidence

Bercow: building talking communities

Yesterday, I was on a train and I tuned into a lively conversation between a young mother and her two year old. They were a sharing a picture book, and Bella was guiding her mum through it pointing out what was going on, with mum commenting. Being a speech and language therapist, I sighed: “lovely contingent talk there”. As I got off the train and walked along the platform, I noticed brightly coloured signs ‘STORIES THIS WAY’… another sigh: “how wonderful, wish I had time”. I left the station and was interested to see a group of people assembled outside a kiosk, someone who seemed to be the leader shouted out ‘Talk Tours – starting in ten – just a few places left!’ Further along the pavement as I turned to go into the shopping centre, a girl who must have only been eight handed me a card with a question mark on it. I must have looked puzzled “it’s a question card” she explained, “you can use it in any of the shops to start a conversation with someone new – or just to ask for help!”.

OK, I’m not being quite honest. The bit about the young mum is true – but the rest….well, I can only dream! But have you ever wondered what a ‘talking community’ would look like?

We’re now in the final three months of the Bercow: Ten Years On review, and while some of our messages will be pretty stark, we’ve also heard some really heartening stories of initiatives that do actually stretch across whole communities. In 2011, at the end of her two year tenure as the Government’s ‘Communication Champion’, Jean Gross wrote a report describing her experience. In it, she shared examples of communitywide initiatives which encouraged speaking and listening. What has been really encouraging in our evidence is that many of these are still going strong.

Get Hackney Talking now has a dedicated website, I’m intrigued by their ‘Talking Walk-In Drop In’ sessions and would love to attend one of their ‘Talk and Make’ sessions!

Check out the wonderful downloadable posters on the Stoke Speaks Out website. Now thirteen years on, this initiative has expanded to include Stoke Reads, really emphasising the importance of early language for reading.

Nottinghamshire’s Language for Life ran a campaign to ‘switch off and talk’ to encourage families to put down their mobiles and screens, and have trained many, many children’s centre staff to be language leaders; ambassadors for communication in their local settings and communities.

Warwickshire’s Time to Talk initiative also relies on children’s centre staff to become speech and language champions. They also have an annual ‘Chatter Matters’ week and in 2018 this will focus on talking across the generations.

From all of these community initiatives, as with all our evidence, we’ve been keen to pull out the key features of what makes them such a success: enthusiasm, inspirational leaders, attractive resources and trained local practitioners who promote the importance of early language. These are all important. But what is also really key is the fact that in all of these initiatives, collecting and analysing evidence is important, to clearly show the impact of this area-wide approach. This isn’t just people having fun (though that happens too!), this focus on language has an impact.

Stoke Speaks Out has collected area wide data on their population of children starting in nursery school right from the start. In 2002, 64% of children started school with delayed language development – this prompted the start of Stoke Speaks Out. Six years after starting, this dropped to just 39%. Earlier this year, the team in Stoke worked with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists to carry out some economic analysis, finding that for every £1 spend, there could be long term savings of £4.26. A community wide approach really makes a difference and is a wise investment for children’s futures.

Do stay in touch with Bercow: Ten Years On in this last crucial period. We will be producing a report, and some powerful recommendations. But most importantly we want to make change happen, so that more local areas can report such amazing results.