When we were making plans for 2020, we had no idea how different the context in which we would deliver them would be. Now that 2020 is almost over, I look back with immense pride at how we – every person who makes the Alliance what it is – have responded to the challenges we have faced together. So, in spite of (in part, because of) the global pandemic, 2020 has seen our greatest advances to date and has laid the foundation for a very exciting year ahead.
Our Hub Network is the heart of the Alliance and we have seen it expand to ten Hubs, with the launches of the last two in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands and Oxfordshire and Central England taking place online. The Hub Leads Group that oversees the Network has developed a strong package of support and maintains its collaborative ethos, so that new Hubs are established in the family more quickly. 2021 promises further expansion through new Hubs and new allies joining, and we will work together to establish an online community platform to enhance the sharing of challenges, solutions, learning and action.
Our annual conference finally went ahead online in October and connected diverse stakeholders reflecting the breadth and collective ambition of allies supporting Service children. The feedback has been overwhelming with the value of connection and shared learning a particular highlight. We launched the Thriving Lives Toolkit, including the seven principles of effective support, self-assessment tool, introductory animations, self-directed online training and case studies offering a suite of support for schools. Thanks to support from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust we are working on an online version of the self-assessment tool and undertaking further research so that the toolkit will expand throughout the UK next year.
In May, we concluded the Year of the Service Child Voice with the launch of our report Listening to Learn: the Voices of Service Children, which captured excellent examples of practice among allies and set out four principles for meaningful and impactful listening: de deliberate, be open, be child-centred and be willing to change. I am delighted to announce that we were successful in our bid to the Education Support Fund to develop an online survey tool that will help schools listen and respond to the priorities of Service families and children, and will help them enhance their work in relation to Principles 5 (Children are Heard) and 6 (Parents are Engaged) of the Thriving Lives Toolkit, in particular.
In addition to these major projects, more and more universities and partners across the network have been building on the learning from the national evaluation of the Creative Forces model of outreach, so that the impact on Service children grows in scale and depth. Research into the impact of the Thriving Lives Toolkit on collaboration got underway, the first of a UK-wide series of Thriving Lives training conferences took place in Yorkshire and the North East, and the online targeting tool was enhanced. And there is more to come: further enhancements to the targeting tool are planned for the new year, dates for more training conferences are being set, and allies across the UK are working on virtual versions of Creative Forces.
For me, more than anything else, 2020 has shown how much more is possible when common vision, shared leadership and collaborative action characterise one’s approach. While the Alliance staff team has grown to 1.85 FTE (yes, not quite two people!), the Alliance community has expanded incredibly. Perhaps, the Alliance is best seen not in the quality or scale of what is produced (important though they are), but in the character of our collaboration and our faithfulness to the vision of thriving lives for Service children.