Children playing with leaves

Children's mental health

Building school communities in Lambeth

We’re partnering with Oval Learning Cluster to build trusting long-term relationships with school communities in the London Borough of Lambeth. Together we can support schools to create safe, nurturing spaces where all children can thrive.

Key information:

What are we doing together

Oval Learning Cluster (OLC) connects schools, families, funders, charities, and service providers to close the inequality gap felt by so many children in inner cities. They listen to the needs of school staff, pupils, and families, then look for pragmatic and creatives ways to meet those needs. This can mean offering strategic advice to school leaders on funding; linking school communities with local services and resources; creating spaces where schools and families can work together; and helping those most impacted by growing inequalities to be heard by policy and decision makers.

OLC (working closely with both Brixton Learning Collaborative and Windmill cluster) includes around 40 schools in the Oval, Windmill, and Brixton areas, and is led by trustees who are senior leaders within those schools.  Impact on Urban health has contributed funding towards OLC’s work since 2018, which supports the aims of both our children’s health and food and children’s mental health programmes.

We have heard from schools across Lambeth that there is a lack of capacity, resources, and expertise to support children with mental health problems. And we know that the distress caused by poverty, insecure housing, and other inequalities is having a huge impact on young people’s well-being.

One of OLC’s priorities is connecting school communities with local organisations, groups, and services that can take some of that pressure off families’ shoulders, and that have the expertise to support children who are in distress. Besides being a bridge between schools, families, and services, OLC are also helping school communities access the funds and grants they need to offer holistic mental health support to every child.

Oval Learning Cluster is here to improve outcomes, life chances and broaden opportunity for children and families in Lambeth. We do that by connecting people, co-designing projects with the school communities we serve, and attracting the funding that makes good things happen in difficult times. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Impact on Urban Health, for their continued investment in Lambeth's young people and for their understanding of the additionality we bring locally.

Oval Learning Cluster

Aims of partnership

The ultimate goal of this partnership is to build school communities where all children have access to the things they need to be safe and happy. In order to achieve this vision – one that can be learned from and replicated in other cities – we aim to:  

  • Support OLC in their mission to make sure every child in their community has access to the things they need to be healthy and happy 
  • Build capacity around the trusted school adults already nurturing children and supporting families 
  • Give OLC the time and resources they need to develop and implement a long-term strategy  
  • Support OLC to have the capacity to build relationships with more schools and grow partnerships with new local services  
  • Better understand ways schools can improve staff and parent engagement through a community listening project (delivered by OLC, YourStory, and The Social Innovation Partnership)  
  • Use the insights OLC generates with schools to inform our programme work – developing much deeper understanding of challenges and opportunities schools are currently experiencing, and how we can take a holistic, community-wide approach to children’s mental health  
  • Learn more about how we and other funders can prioritise the security and longevity of social enterprises

In the context of the current economic and education crises, Oval Learning’s work is more vital than ever as they support schools to continue to provide safe and nurturing environments for children and families. We’re excited to support the development of their strategy and delivery of services, while also exploring how schools’ and parents’ experiences and expertise can increasingly influence local planning and decision making. 

Julika Niehaus
Julika Niehaus Portfolio Manager

Strategic fit

We all have a role to play in ensuring children have what they need to feel safe and hopeful. Research shows that school plays a particularly important role, as it makes up such a big part of a child’s early life experiences. These experiences can contribute to distress or trauma, or they can be protective and life-affirming, and this is why working with school communities to prioritise children’s wellbeing is so key.  

So much of OLC’s work centres around children’s mental health and wellbeing. Their approach to community, asset-based support – looking for ways to build capacity within local trusted services – aligns with our aim to shift power, so that those closest to the issues faced by communities are also those in a position to make decisions. 

As a programme we want to support organisations and individuals who are contributing to healthy, equitable communities in Lambeth and Southwark. OLC are working with several of our other partners and are trusted in the community, which means we can join up all our insights to become more than the sum of their parts. Our partnership with OLC means we can reach school communities across the borough, learn from them, test initiatives, and build momentum around the changes that work.