Blackpool is just one step away from potentially unlocking £50m to help the town’s most deprived children get a better start in life.
The £400,000 Big Lottery Fund development grant announced yesterday will be used over the next four months to gain a full picture of what needs to be done to improve prospects for youngsters in their early years.
A partnership led by children’s charity the NSPCC will submit its bid at the end of the year, with an announcement due next March as to which of the final 15 bids have been successful.
At stake is the chance to clinch between £30m and £50m of Lottery cash for projects to transform the lives of babies born to vulnerable families.
Bernadette Oxley, NSPCC regional head of service for the North West and Cumbria, said: “There is a huge pool of need in Blackpool, and the town has a very mixed population with a lot of vulnerable parents.
“There is already a lot of exciting work on early intervention going on in Blackpool, and the NSPCC feels privileged to be leading this bid.
“But for example, we know some initiatives are only reaching 12 per cent of the population and there are many hidden groups, and people in desperate need, who we need to make sure we reach.”
The NSPCC will work with the council, the health authority and the voluntary sector to identify where there are gaps in existing services, and how funding could be used to make the most impact.
Bernadette added: “All the evidence suggests if you intervene early, you increase the life chances of children so they are better placed for school, better able to form relationships and attachments, so their language is better developed and they are healthier.”
Coun Sarah Riding, cabinet member for children’s services on Blackpool Council, said it was vital to reach as many vulnerable families as possible.
She said: “This money will make a real difference to how we support families and children from birth up to three years old.
“It is another positive boost which proves the work we are doing to help children at the earliest possible stage in their life is the correct approach.”
Originally 148 bids were made for the funding.
The Big Lottery Fund has £165m in total and up to five areas will be selected for investments of between £30m and £50m.
Parents’ joy at windfall
From advice on home-cooking to help with dental health - mums and dads already accessing family support in Blackpool know how valuable it is.
For some, it is just about having chance to mix in at a toddler group, while for others it provides a lifeline.
But whatever level of service they need, all the mums agree that giving their children the best start possible is the priority. They hope the new funding from the Big Lottery will help continue to fund existing activities and help reach out to other parents.
Paula Mulvany, 36, of Layton, takes her two boys, aged three and one, to Tiddlers and Tiddly Winks at St Thomas’s Church on Caunce Street, organised by council staff from the nearby Brunswick and Talbot Children’s Centre.
Mrs Mulvany said: “Not everyone has their mum around, so having someone to go to for advice is really helpful for some people. Everything is free which means everyone can access it, and there are is also support for mums to help them get back to work and help improve their family life that way.”
At the Bambinos Discovery Play Session, held weekly at St Thomas’s Church, there was mum-of-two Heather Pelos, 28, from Bispham, with Becky, 14 months. She said: “There is always someone to talk to about health issues and advice, and I have also learned about home cooking which means I can make sure my children get a good start in life. It’s really important what they do here.”
Abbey Curran, Early Learning and Families Worker at Talbot and Brunswick Children’s Centre, said: “We have families who come here from all sorts of different backgrounds. But services like this cost money, so Lottery funding is crucial.
“We do everything from refering families to health visitors to puttig up notices about healthy snacks.”
Mums at Mereside at Clifton Sure Start Children’s Centre have also welcomed the focus on developing early years services. Kelly Rayner, 24, from Clifton Avenue, Mereside, uses the centre with four-month-old daughter Tiana-Esme.
She said: “I come here quite a lot and she loves it. For the summer holidays we’ve practically moved into the children’s centre.”
Amanda Garwood, 23, of Bowness Avenue, Mereside, attends with nine-month-old Willow-Armani.
She said: “This money will help becuse it’s good to socialise andspeak to other young mums to see how they cope too.”
Where we should start
Health bosses have identified three key areas to improve young children’s development.
If the larger bid for up to £50m is successful, they will focus on improving children’s communication and language development, diet and nutrition and social and emotional development.
Pauline Tschbotoko, head of services for the families division of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are all absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this development money which will enable us to progress our bid for up to £50m to improve the health and wellbeing young children across Blackpool.
“The funding will support a number of health improvement projects in some of the most deprived wards in Blackpool with families from pre-birth up to the age of three.
“The three key themes we will be focusing on will be communication and language development, diet and nutrition and social and emotional development.
“The hospital trust, the NSPCC and the local authority are all really excited about working in partnership on this project which we believe will lead to major health improvements and transform the lives of babies and young children and their families across Blackpool.”