Friday, 23 September 2011

Surestart - Willows family and child centre is to close

It is with sadness that that Willows family and child centre is to close. Sure Start have replied and I attach the reply at the bottom.

The Government have stated that "we are all in this together", "the deficit will not be cut on the backs of the poor" and the Prime Minister guaranteed any minister coming forward with cuts to front line services "would be sent straight back".

All seem a distance away now and somewhat hollow.

Sure Start in Hyndburn was set up by the ideological Tories as a Limited Company and I have always had my doubts about its operational capability and questioned the role of it's lead advisor and their decisions. It has flirted with financial instability previously and LCC were asked to intervene.

Contrast that with the publicly run Sure Start centres elsewhere in the constituency which do not seem under threat. The private sector has always by and large failed to deliver public services to the same quality and standards as the public sector in my experience.

It would be a shame if this centre were closing because of private sector failure and another nail in the coffin of the previous ideologically driven Conservative Council who set up these arrangements.

One issue has been awareness by parents. An issue I raised back in 2005 when Peel Ward was excluded despite many parents wanting to use the centre. Back then management seemed confident they had the numbers and if places did become available they may allow parents in Peel ward to access them, but that was no guarantee.

I am writing to Sure Start to ask them to reconsider and appeal to the public to come forward and use a facility they perhaps were unaware that they could use. To appeal to parents in Peel Ward who believe they cannot access Sure Start because many of them still believe that. I know, I live there.

Dear Mr Jones,

At a meeting held yesterday, the Sure Start manager on behalf of the board of trustees, announced to parents that the little stars Sure Start nursery at the Willows family and child centre in Accrington (near Oakhill Park) will close in October. We have not yet been given a date for closure. The reasons cited were an important funding bid being rejected and a lack of September enrolments. I am contacting you to make you aware of yet another cut taking place in Hyndburn and how it is affecting local people and also really for any advice you can give.

On a personal level the closure will affect us deeply. My 6 month baby started the nursery only 2 weeks ago and his starting nursery was to enable me to return to work after my maternity leave on the 19th September. I am now faced with trying to find a suitable replacement nursery. At the meeting we were offered a place at The Park Sure Start centre which we may have to take up in the interim as there were no vacancies for the hours I require when I enquired at other nurseries in Haslingden and the surrounding area until January or March.

The closure of this centre seems such a retrograde step for the local community, children and parents alike. Without it all children will now have to travel by car or bus to the nearest alternative nursery. The staff at the Willows centre are truly excellent and I feel devastated for them, As you are aware, by definition Sure Start are not for profit therefore they are truly child centred as all profit is ploughed back into resources for the children. The centre itself is clean, modern and very well equipped. Once this service is closed I can't see how it can ever be reinstated.

I feel that the centre could have been more effectively advertised and promoted to ensure the numbers required to make it viable for the long term. There isn't even a sign from the main Manchester road or a sign outside the building itself facing the road. There is only a sign to the rear of the church building that can only be seen from a footpath.There are many opportunities in marketing the centre at low cost that have been missed such as an open day which would have been a chance to show local people where and what the nursery provides, leafleting, posters in the local shops, schools, health centre, supermarkets etc. and importantly forging links with all the local schools. Had there been a consultation period earlier to alert people that it was struggling more could have been done to save the nursery. I feel strongly that the board have drawn the conclusion that the declining numbers meant that the service isn't needed by enough people rather than the centre needed a higher profile in the community to attract enough people. I for one have lived locally for many years and never knew of its existence until it was recommended to me in July this year.

I am aware that this email is not as succinct as I would have liked!

I felt you are best placed for advice and to draw attention to the loss of such a valuable local resource.

Yours Sincerley