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Princess of Wales takes her early years campaign to the big screen

The cinema and billboard campaign is the latest part of the Princess of Wales's campaign to shift public perceptions about early years development - Justin Tallis/AP
The cinema and billboard campaign is the latest part of the Princess of Wales's campaign to shift public perceptions about early years development - Justin Tallis/AP

The Princess of Wales is launching a major cinema and billboard campaign as she aims to transform the nation’s views of early childhood within a decade.

The long-term public awareness drive is thought to be the first of its kind to be launched by a member of the Royal family.

Called Shaping Us, it is designed to influence attitudes about the unique importance of the first five years of a child’s life and the impact they have on adulthood.

It is the next step in the Princess’s project as she hopes to help fundamentally shift public opinion so that there will be better mental health support for parents, improved investment and training in the early years sector and systemic change in how development is measured.

In turn, it is hoped that will prevent issues such as homelessness and addiction in later life.

The Princess of Wales at St John's Church of England School, in Bethnal Green, on Saturday. She has long campaigned for greater awareness of early years development - Kensington Palace
The Princess of Wales at St John's Church of England School, in Bethnal Green, on Saturday. She has long campaigned for greater awareness of early years development - Kensington Palace

The Princess intends to make the early years “one the most strategically important topics of our time”.

The Princess - accompanied by the Prince of Wales - attended a launch event at Bafta on Monday, where she outlined her vision for the campaign.

She said that experiences, relationships and surroundings from birth until the age of five “fundamentally” shape the rest of our lives.

“Yet they rarely get as much focus as our physical health and cognitive development,” she added.

“During this time, we lay the foundations and building blocks for life.

“It is when we learn to understand ourselves, understand others and understand the world in which we live.”

The campaign is considered to be just the first step of a “cultural transformation” that will take time. It is designed to start conversations, invite curiosity and start to slowly build awareness.

A 90-second animation, charting the development of a young girl from birth until her fifth birthday, was commissioned to illustrate how the brain is stimulated by social interactions, support and affection.

The “claymation”, made by London-based Blinkink, will be shown before films at cinemas from Friday, while a billboard campaign will reinforce the message up and down the country.

The Shaping Us 'claymation' has been produced by London-based Blinkink
The Shaping Us 'claymation' has been produced by London-based Blinkink

The campaign will be championed by a series of celebrities. They include England footballer Leah Williamson, former rugby player Ugo Monye and presenters Fearne Cotton, Rochelle Humes and Giovanna Fletcher - who will help to spread the message to their respective audiences and to younger generations.

It is the first major announcement from The Royal Foundation’s Centre for Early Childhood, launched by the Princess in 2021 - when she signalled her intention to elevate the status of the early years so it can be on a par with global issues such as the environment.

The centre said research had shown that around one in three - 36 per cent - adults know just a little or nothing about how children develop in early childhood.

The Princess is understood to have been “actively involved” in every element of the campaign. She is working with a panel of expert advisers who will guide her through the next steps, which for now remain under wraps.

She said that “all of society” has a role to play.

“The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships, and surroundings during our early childhood, fundamentally shapes our whole lives,” she added.

“It affects everything from our ability to form relationships and thrive at work, to our mental and physical well-being as adults and the way we parent our own children.

“These are the most preventative years. By focusing our collective time, energy and resources to build a supportive, nurturing world around the youngest members of our society and those caring for them, we can make a huge difference to the health and happiness of generations to come.”

Eamon McCrory, professor of developmental neuroscience and psychopathology at University College London and a member of the Centre for Early Childhood’s advisory group, said it is in the early years that “resilience to adversity” is established.

He said there is “extensive” scientific evidence showing how experiences during the early years predict lifelong mental health, physical health, wellbeing and life satisfaction into middle age and beyond.

“We believe that there's a lack of societal recognition of that fact,” he added.

“There's a lack of investment in the potential to shift the way society thinks about the early years as a true opportunity for prevention in terms of homelessness, addiction and mental health.”


Princess of Wales’s commitment provides early years sector with an important ally

By Ed Vainker

The launch of Shaping Us – a major new awareness raising campaign by The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, is increasing public understanding of the crucial importance of the first five years of a child’s life.

The ongoing commitment of the Princess of Wales to the early years provides the sector with an important ally and advocate.

As the campaign highlights, during early childhood, from pregnancy to the age of five, our brains develop at an amazing rate – faster than any other time of our lives.

Our experiences, relationships and surroundings at that very young age, shape the rest of our lives. And yet, so often, we focus our collective energy on later life.

I began my career as a secondary school teacher but, if I knew then what I know now, I would have focused my whole career in the earliest years.

Ed Vainker was one of the experts from across academia, science and the early years sector who joined the Princess of Wales for a round table discussion at Windsor Castle earlier this month - Daniel Leal/Reuters
Ed Vainker was one of the experts from across academia, science and the early years sector who joined the Princess of Wales for a round table discussion at Windsor Castle earlier this month - Daniel Leal/Reuters

The centre’s Shaping Us campaign gives us an opportunity to deepen national understanding of the importance of this period of life. It invites us to build a supportive, nurturing world around children and those caring for them in the knowledge of the huge difference this would make to the physical and mental health and happiness of generations to come. And it makes the point that all of us, every member of society, has a role to play in this, whether or not we are directly involved in a child’s life.

I know from my work in the education system that the campaign comes at a difficult time for the sector and early years in particular.

Insufficient attention was paid to our youngest children during the pandemic. A recent report by Kindred 2 found that 46 per cent of children in Reception year last September were not ready for school.

Three priorities

I would identify three aspirations for the early years in the next five years to move towards a supportive, nurturing world around children.

These aspirations drive our work in Feltham and would move the system closer to achieving the campaign’s objectives.

Firstly, deliver timely, relational, joined-up support for parents.

Early relationships are vital for the baby’s developing brain, yet accessing services that support healthy relationships is a postcode lottery.

To identify and support families takes a joined-up workforce that includes health, early years and the voluntary and community sector.

We have seen a huge appetite in Feltham for universal and targeted services that build relationships and help parents to access the specialist services they need. Too often, parents are isolated and unable to find the help they need.

Secondly, raise the status of the early years workforce.

Any discussion about improving the quality of a public service starts and ends with the workforce that delivers it. Those working with our youngest children should be recognised as educators and professionals.

A clear pipeline of career progression that attracts and retains the best educators to work in this field will support this recognition, with opportunities to access specialist training and be acknowledged for their skill and the importance of their work.

Thirdly, support and investment where it is needed most.

We should ensure that we focus on ensuring that families and communities with the highest need are able to access support. That means a joined-up system that feels accessible to all parents and access to specialist services quickly when needs are identified.

The long-term ambition of the Shaping Us campaign is to transform public awareness of the importance of early childhood. It shines a much-needed light on a hugely important topic.

Ed Vainker is the chief executive of the Reach Foundation, which provides cradle to career support for a community in Feltham. He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Centre for Early Childhood.