A massive cash injection of £45m which will transform the lives of 9,000 babies was today described as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ for Blackpool.
The resort is one of just five towns to successfully bid for a share of £215m of National Lottery funding which will target the under-threes.
Issues which can hold back the development of children - from a parent who is an alcoholic to young mums who need advice on healthy eating - will be tackled during the key pre-school years.
It is also hoped to reduce the number of children growing up in care, meaning less family break up and stronger communities.
The Blackpool Better Start Partnership, led by the NSPCC children’s charity alongside Blackpool Council and local health services, will spearhead the project over the next 10 years. Currently almost a third of babies in Blackpool are born into poverty, while rates of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic abuse across the town, are above the national average.
The cash will be concentrated on the poorest wards in the resort - Claremont, Talbot, Brunswick, Bloomfield, Park, Victoria and Clifton - but some initiatives, such as encouraging mums-to-be not to smoke in pregnancy, will be borough-wide.
Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “This funding will allow us to change the way we help local families.
“From the minute a child is born, they should be given an equal chance of growing up as a healthy baby who can then grow up and achieve their potential.”
He added: “It is a once in a generation opportunity.
“The National Lottery Fund has recognised a council that can see what is wrong with the town, but which can also deliver what needs to be done. We are determined all of this money goes towards families who need it the most. This project will last over a long period of time, and the effects won’t be seen overnight, but eventually I envisage a huge amount of Blackpool children being significantly helped to live a happy and healthier life.”
Currently 30 per cent of mothers smoke during pregnancy, while only just over half try to breastfeed their babies.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “All newborns deserve the chance to thrive but we know child development outcomes for many babies in Blackpool are poor and some children start school ill-equipped to learn.
“That’s why we have set ourselves a bold ambition to give every baby in Blackpool the best possible start in life.”
Almost 150 areas originally tabled bids for a slice of the cash.
The money will be invested in programmes which have already been proved to make a difference to a child’s wellbeing.
One of the first initiatives will be the recruitment of two additional family nurses to extend the existing nurse-led home visiting programme for young parents aged under 20.
Already underway is Blackpool Beach School designed to encourage families to make more use of outdoor play.
Food Dudes gives parents tips on healthy eating, while Star Buddies supports breastfeeding among new mums.
Baby Steps is a programme to support healthy relationships and child development during the transition to parenthood.
Parents Under Pressure is a 20 week intensive programme for parents receiving drug or alcohol treatment.
Many of the ideas have come from parents themselves, who have been involved in the project from the start after a special forum was set up by the council last October. Around 70 parents were involved in an initial session to discuss how the cash could be spent and several then signed up to be part of the forum itself.
A Community Voice group has been set up to continue their involvement.
The NSPCC will work from its existing base just off Mowbray Drive in Layton, but a new Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development will also be set up, based initially at Blackpool Football Club.
Joanne Hay, head of strategy for the NSPCC, said: “The outcomes will be shared not just in Blackpool but across the country and internationally.
“We already have links with the US and academics in other countries and this will establish Blackpool as a leader in this type of work.”
Blackpool initially received £400,000 from the Big Lottery Fund in August last year to develop the bid.
Recent research has shown nationally 35 per cent of toddlers from impoverished inner-city areas are anaemic, more than half of nursery-age children living in disadvantaged areas have a have a communication disorder, with as many as seven per cent in some cities, and 10 per cent of children entering school are obese.
For every £1 spent on early years education, £7 has to be spent to have the same impact in adolescence.
Figures released last year by the Child Poverty Action Group revealed there were currently 9,500 children living in poverty in Blackpool.
Bloomfield is the worst affected ward, with 54 per cent of children living in poverty and average life expectancy is only age 72.
The council has already introduced its own measures to tackle some problems, including the free breakfast scheme adopted in January 2013 at an initial cost of £700,000.
The other areas awarded cash alongside Blackpool are Lambeth, Southend, Nottingham and Bradford.
Dharmendra Kanani, Big Lottery Fund England Director, said: “Parents want the best for their children and as a society we know that what happens in the first three years of life profoundly affects a child’s future life chances.
“A poor start in life can affect your health, wellbeing, outlook on life and how you form relationship.”