As we celebrate 50 years of LLL in Great Britain, we can take plenty of time to review how far we’ve come and to listen to and honour the stories of the Leaders who worked so hard to establish our presence here. It’s amazing to think that what started 65 years ago in the United States with seven mothers at a picnic has become so wide-reaching, and that we in GB have been part of that story, with plenty of Leaders who have been supporting mothers and families for decades still serving alongside our brand new Leaders.
As the current Chair of LLLGB’s Council of Directors (our body of trustees and directors), though, I want us to look forward too, and to start thinking about how the next fifty years might look.
There is so much about what we do that is the same as it always has been: after all, babies haven’t really changed. Our Leaders spend a huge amount of time in their preparation for Leadership learning and practising skills of listening and communication, with a focus on empowering mothers to listen to their babies and their instincts. Some Leaders have many many years of experience and could be viewed as “experts”, but as we’ve always said, “you are the expert on your own baby”, and we’re not providing “advice” from a pedestal now any more than we ever have. We still make sure the information we provide is accurate, while sharing it in our uniquely LLLoving style.
What has changed, though, is the world around us. We’ve done so well serving those we reached at first, and now we’re tackling new challenges about reaching out and working to make sure we stay relevant to new generations of mothers and parents. Lots of organisations have woken up in recent years to the hard facts around inclusion, and in particular the uncomfortable message that providing truly equitable breastfeeding support means going further than just passively dealing with those who happen to find us. We absolutely must keep questioning ourselves about who we are not reaching, and about what barriers are in place that are stopping people coming to us with their queries about breastfeeding or supporting a breastfeeding family member or friend. For instance, recently we’ve become clearer in our understanding of the need to reduce inequities in access to support for racially minoritised groups; we’ve altered our process for Leader Applicants so there is no longer a fee to apply for Leadership; and we’ve introduced a careful set of principles for language use within our organisation recognising that words are powerful, that we need to meet people where they are, and that not all of those who breastfeed choose to describe themselves as mothers.
Changes are hard, and we could all keep on for the next fifty years running our groups exactly as we always have done, but we’re braver and more ambitious than that. We’ll be keeping on seeking out chances to offer breastfeeding support with the widest possible access, actively including those in all marginalised and minoritised groups, while also continuing to work with the families who have known and loved LLL for years.
It’s not only in inclusion that we’re embracing constant change and growth. We’ve all had to step up enormously in these Covid times, and we achieved an overnight pivot with the beginning of the first UK lockdown, where many of us learned rapidly how to use Zoom and other online tools so that we could seamlessly keep providing support. Even now, as I write this, while groups are tentatively (and joyfully!) moving back to meeting in person, we’re keeping a flourishing online presence: a mother anywhere can find one of our virtual meetings any day of the week, and in the first year of the pandemic we recorded as many contacts overall as we had in the year before, which in the circumstances is truly incredible.
I feel excited about the next fifty years and about growing in our reach and range while keeping hold of the things we hold dear. It’s a challenge, for sure, but mothers, babies and families need us, and we’re looking forward to getting on with it.