Mum’s fight for centre

Mums who attend Layton Children's Centre on Grenfell Avenue are angry about plans to close the centre as part of council cost-saving measures.
Mums who attend Layton Children's Centre on Grenfell Avenue are angry about plans to close the centre as part of council cost-saving measures.
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KNOWING how to boil an egg and cook vegetables may seem like child’s play – but simple lessons in cooking have made a world of difference to many young mums in Layton.

Layton’s Sure Start Children’s centre has become a busy community hub in the three years it has been open.

From bustling toddlers groups, colourful messy play sessions and even meetings for mums-to-be – the door of the Grenfell Avenue site is always open.

But its future is now under threat.

Two Sure Start children’s centres in the town are facing the chop as part of devastating £27m cutbacks faced by Blackpool Council.

The two centres, Layton and Highfield, could be closed within months in order to claw back £500,000 from the Children’s Services budget.

The news has come as a massive blow to young families who use the centre in Layton.

A group of mums has described it as a lifeline and say as well as allowing children to socialise, they get invaluable, health, financial and even careers advice.

Today, two open meetings are scheduled to be held so Blackpool Council can consult with families who use the centres.

David Lund, director of Children’s Services, says community groups can take over the running of the centres. But its staff are vital, say the mothers.

And they are not prepared to see its doors close without a fight.

Mel Sweeney, 23, lives doors away from the centre with her daughter Elissa, two.

She said: “I don’t know what I would have done without Sure Start, it’s made a massive difference to so many people.

“I know a girl who moved here from Scotland with a young daughter, but her mum had been a heroin addict so she’d never been taught how to cook or clean.

“The staff here texted her and really encouraged her to come to sessions to learn basics, she wouldn’t have come otherwise.

“It meant she could cook healthy, affordable things for her daughter. It’s simple but it’s not an easy thing to ask someone to show you.

“That’s a major thing for her life and health though, and her daughter’s.

“I’m getting advice on going back to college and I never would have done that without the staff here at Layton.”

Sure Start was developed under Labour and the first centres opened in 1998 with the aim of “giving children the best possible start in life”.

Deprived areas were targeted, and the centres were tasked with bringing health visitors, midwives, speech therapy and a range of other professionals under one roof to those most in need.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair described Sure Start as “one of New Labour’s greatest achievements”.

Most importantly, they have done much to end the isolation of families, and this isn’t just mothers.

Ida Eaton, 61, from Layton Road, looks after her two grandchildren every day after her 31-year-old daughter-in-law died suddenly, two years ago.

Mrs Eaton said: “Sure Start has been a lifeline, I don’t know how I would’ve coped without it. The staff helped me get two days of nursery care for my two-year-old granddaughter. It gives me time to get my thoughts in order. Looking after children can be isolating and lonely.

“The staff here actively encourage you to come, I can’t thank them enough.”

The problems aren’t just in Blackpool, nationally, 60,000 families are set to lose their local centre as 250 are expected to close.

Blackpool Council say a lot of the facilities are provided at other centres nearby, but the journey can be a difficult one, according to mum of one Liz Metcalf, 25.

She said: “I worry about other mums who won’t have the chance to benefit from this service.

“The staff have expert knowledge and contacts. I’m sure some of the mums will continue to meet here, but the staff pull new mothers in.

“This centre is local to us, it means we don’t have to struggle with prams all the way to Grange Park.

“It is a God-send and it will be a sad day for the area if we lose it.”

In Layton, local councillors Roy Haskett and Sue Ridyard have backed the mum’s appeal for the centre to stay open.

In South Shore, Coun Sue Fowler said she was yet to hear of any concerns about the proposed closure of the Highfield centre.

She said: “No mothers have come forward, perhaps people are understanding that if there’s no money in the pot, we can’t spend any. These cuts are very tough, and some really difficult decisions have had to be made.”

The meetings are being held at 1pm at Grange Park Sure Start centre on Dingle Avenue at 1pm and Highfield Children’s Centre on Highfield Road at 4pm.

Any views on proposed closures should be sent to David Lund at Progress House, Clifton Road by Monday, March 21.