Report warns Lottery project to focus on Blackpool's most deprived areas
Calls have been made for Blackpool’s £45m Better Start project to refocus its resources on the resort’s most deprived wards after a report showed some of the most vulnerable familes might be missing out on help.
Studies have revealed more than half of those benefitting from the scheme live outside the seven wards originally identified “to exclusively be in receipt of funded intervention.”
The 10-year Lottery funded scheme was launched in 2015 to support families with pre-school children, from the point of pregnancy until the child reaches four years old.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with experts from Blackpool Better Start during a tour of the town in March 2019 to hear about the work being done to help under-fives living in deprived areas.
Funding was due to be targetted in the seven wards of Bloomfield, Brunswick, Claremont, Clifton, Park, Talbot and Victoria where families were in most need.
But a scrutiny report by councillors has raised concerns resources are not targetting the seven wards as much as they should be.
Some initiatives are rolled out to other parts of the town to extend the benefit of the work, but data has shown this ripple effect means “the initial focus on the original wards had been diluted.”
Analysis of data between April 2015 and September 2020 revealed 57 per cent of residents accessing Better Start services lived in non-Better Start wards.
Investment of £1.6m has been made by Better Start into children’s centres and parks, but the report said “not all wards have benefitted equally from this investment however.”
Only 29 children from Talbot ward had attended a park ranger event in the developed parks and green spaces, compared to 606 children in non-Better Start wards.
No children from Talbot ward had taken part in Gardening Club activities, compared to a total of 1,865 children across non-Better Start wards.
However 1,673 children from Victoria ward had taken part in park ranger activities and 52 children in Gardening Club sessions.
The report warned “the disparity across the wards and between Better Start areas and non-Better Start wards was of concern to the working group.”
It recognised the “excellent work implemented across the town”, and made five recommendations including calling on Better Start to “target funds to the seven wards originally identified for funding”.
The recommendation also says intervention should be reviewed in wards where families are failing to access services “to ensure they are suitable and accessible.”
Merle Davies, Director of the Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development which oversees Better Start, said participation in outdoor projects in Talbot ward had been low up until now because investment in parks had been more recent.
She said: “We welcomed the opportunity to speak to the council’s scrutiny committee about the work of the Better Start partnership and were pleased they recognised and praised the work taking place in the town.
“One of the reasons Blackpool received the National Lottery funding was due to the difficulty in engaging parents in some of our wards.
“Part of the partnerships work is to increase this and we will continue to consult with and develop initiatives with parents to do so.
“Regarding the low take up in Talbot ward in particular, the figures quoted were in response to activities around outdoor play.
“Unfortunately the parks and open space investment took place over
a five year period, with the investment into the play zone in Talbot ward only being completed during lockdown last year, so there was lower take up from residents in that ward.
“While our work continues to focus on the seven Better Start wards, there are some programmes that have been delivered across the town.
“For instance, Better Start has made a five year investment into the health visiting service to ensure all parents in Blackpool receive more health visitor contacts than anywhere else in England.
“This investment has also equipped health visitors with new skills and programmes to ensure the 98 per cent who access it from all wards have the best service for children from conception to schools age, with pathways into a range of new services including speech and language support.
“Any parents interested in getting more engaged can contact us through our website www.blackpoolbetterstart.org.uk or by contacting the Volunteer Centre www.VolunteerCentreBWF.org.uk .”
The report is due to be considered at a meeting of the council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee when it meets on Thursday.
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