Family walking a dog

Children's mental health

Old Kent Road Family Zone: Making life safer, healthier, and happier for children and families in Southwark

This partnership works alongside the local community to build on the social, economic, and physical possibilities of the Old Kent Road area.

Key information: 

What we are doing together 

The Old Kent Road Family Zone (OKRFZ) is a community-led initiative that is currently facilitated by Surrey Square Primary School in Southwark, South London. It aims to make life for local children and families safer, healthier, and happier, by drawing on the community’s existing strengths and co-creating solutions to common challenges. The OKRFZ is designed and led by children and families, working in partnership with local government, health services, schools, local businesses, and the voluntary sector. 

We have been working with OKRFZ since January 2022 to scope and develop this initiative and are excited to support them for the next five years as they make their vision a reality. Their strategy is underpinned by four ‘strands of recovery’: self-efficacy, gratitude, connectedness, and hope. These principles inform OKRFZ’s approach alongside the priorities of building or deepening relationships with individuals and organisations across the community. 

The OKRFZ is governed by a Community Board, made up of parents and representatives from local partner organisations including Burgess Sports, Pembroke House, London South Bank University, SSQ Parents, Southwark Law Centre, PACT, Citizens UK, Edible Rotherhithe, and Big Education. One of the most popular projects currently being led by OKRFZ is the Saturday Marketplace, a space held monthly at Surrey Square Primary School where families can get tasty and nutritious food, pre-loved clothes, NHS check-ups, access to sports coaching and much more. It is also an important opportunity for children and adults to connect, socialise, make friends, and get to know the community they are a part of.

The Old Kent Road Family Zone is doing things differently. Our focus on strength, hope, and celebration stems from the belief that by listening to and working with the community we can make the long-term positive changes that are much needed. The partnership with Impact on Urban Health has already had a positive impact on people’s lives and with their continued support this will only grow. Our commitment to codifying the work means that we can capture the learnings and hopefully impact the work of other community zones and funders.

Nicola Noble Co-Head Teacher at Surrey Square Primary School and one of the first OKRFZ members

Aims of partnership 

The long term aims of OKRFZ are to: 

  • Build on the incredible potential of the Old Kent Road area (in the context of the ongoing Old Kent Road Regeneration). Particularly focusing on the physical spaces, economic and social opportunities.
  • Tackle health and social inequalities most prevalent in the area so that every child and family have access to the things they need to be healthy and happy 

Over the next five years there will be several key objectives that make the long term aims possible, including: 

  • Strengthening and building the OKRFZ team and governance structure
  • Developing a deeper understanding of community engagement and making sure decision-making sits with local people
  • Better understanding the root causes of the issues that affect children and families most – like poverty and racism – and looking at ways to address these causes directly
  • Building strong partnerships with charities, retailers, food industries and others who have power to improve the lives of children and families
  • Codifying the Community Board’s process and principles so that other community family zones can learn from them
  • Influencing other funders to support grassroots, asset-based community developments by demonstrating what work 

The Old Kent Road Family Zone’s work consistently proves the power of community to tackle health inequities. By working together with residents, groups, and businesses, OKRFZ is turning Old Kent Road into a place where all children and families can thrive. They are not only creating joyful and supportive spaces, but also increasing connectedness, participation, and agency for all generations. And while much of their work is specific to this community, the team is already codifying their progress, sharing what they are learning so that others can more easily create their own community-led family zones.

Julika Niehaus
Julika Niehaus Portfolio Manager

Strategic fit 

One of the core principles of our children’s mental health programme is that the children and families most impacted by inequality should be the ones who have most say in what needs to change. This family zone is a new and more liberatory way of thinking about community support – it builds agency and capacity within communities so that the expertise, ideas, and crucially decisions, sit with them.  

Our programme and Surrey Square Primary School, where OKRFZ was born, also share another principle; that there is no ‘attainment’ without mental health and wellbeing for young people. This means prioritising the physical and emotional needs of children over school ‘outcomes’, something that cannot be done without addressing the inequities impacting so many families in Southwark, and across the country. Without the building blocks of health and happiness – safe housing, nutritious food, space to socialise and play – learning becomes impossible.  

OKRFZ has spent years listening to residents to understand the ways that inequity and injustice impact their lives. They heard over and over how members of their local community feel judged, stereotyped, and stigmatised, often just for living in the neighbourhoods or estates that they do. As a result, OKRFZ is addressing another of our programme’s strategic aims – to reframe the issue of children’s mental health away from one of individual blame and towards one of socio-economic and political responsibility. The school communities and families that make up OKRFZ want to tell a different story about their neighbourhoods, one of celebration, pride, and hope.