The concept of a children’s zone was inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone, a defined area of roughly 100 blocks in New York. The core principles have since been replicated elsewhere. Children’s zones typically focus on a disadvantaged urban area, giving holistic, whole life support.
The project aims to break the cycle of generational poverty by addressing the whole context around a child’s journey of growing up through a series of interlinked interventions for children and their families focused on education, health, wellbeing, nutrition, and social networks, from before childbirth to finishing school.
We need something which goes beyond ‘services’ altogether, namely the natural operations of a healthy community, with all the informal assets and resources of the neighbourhood supporting families
The Children’s Zone model has been replicated in the UK but configured slightly differently. West London Zone (WLZ), founded by Danny Kruger in 2011, has built itself using the same model of collective impact. Unlike Harlem, which has a ‘central hub’, all the work takes place where the children are in their schools, at home and through their local community organisations.
The programme acts like a web that connects the resources already available in a community and matches those resources with the needs of individual children. North Camden Zone (NCZ) is one of the latest Zones to be established in the last 2 years. Set up by the charity The Winch, the biggest notable difference to WLZ is the involvement of the private sector. NCZ has put greater focus on overcoming the organisational challenges of collaboration, which has brought new and valuable lessons around governance, planning and delivery.
While these models work in slightly different ways there are common lessons for success across all of the examples mentioned:
- Understand the local context: Use the assets of the community rather than supplanting them. West London Zone delivers their work as an addition to pre-existing local services that communities are familiar with.
- Partner with others: West London Zone recommended a ‘year zero’ for development and design to build relationships and get communities and local agencies fully on board before service delivery begins.
- Learn and adapt: Spend time building intelligence before moving into delivering services. North Camden Zone was launched after nearly four years of research and work which was inspired by a visit to Harlem.
- Think long term: Harlem Children’s Zone‘s ‘pipeline program design’ supports young people’s educational, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing from before they are born through to higher education.
- Bring in expertise: Whilst West London Zone originally thought data would be their biggest asset, they quickly realised their link workers were the most valuable part of the organisation as they build the relationships necessary to make collaboration happen.
This case study is part of our framework for place-based funding.