A £75m scheme to transform the lives of thousands of Blackpool children is now officially up and running.
The 10-year Better Start campaign being led by the NSPCC has already begun making an impact on young families in the resort.
A team of 14 staff is now based at the Centre for Early Child Development (CECD) in Bickerstaffe House on Talbot Road.
Supported by a board of national and international experts, they are working with community volunteers at children’s centres, running the family nurse partnership to support parents aged under 20, and involved in the council’s selective licensing scheme to improve housing.
The scheme is funded through a £45m Lottery grant awarded last year, plus £30m of ring-fenced public funds.
Intervention ranges from a simple activities card with tips for parents about how to entertain youngsters during the summer holidays, to tackling domestic abuse which is four times the national average in Blackpool.
Merle Davies, director of the CECD, said: “One of the things we are looking at is how stress before birth can impact on the life of a child before it is born and everything we are doing is about reducing stress during pregnancy and then helping parents in those crucial first years.
“Research is also being carried out in Blackpool in relation to domestic abuse.
“At the first sign something is wrong we want to be able to put in a support worker who can find out what the issues are.
“For example, it might be someone has lost their job, and we want to stop the issue from escalating.”
Merle was born and brought up in Blackpool but her career has taken her overseas to Borneo and Germany. She has held senior posts at national level and is a former North West Child Poverty Advisor for the government.
She said: “People have told us they want to be proud of their town and proud of coming from Blackpool, and I think that’s something all of us feel. There is good community work going on and now is the time to really use that.
“If we get this right it should change outcomes for children and families in Blackpool in the long term.
“If we have healthy children when they are born, it will have a life time impact on their health, and mental and emotional wellbeing.
“We can only do that by helping parents and stopping them replicating the cycle of deprivation.”
The Blackpool team has access to leading research from around the world, and will also feed in its own findings to the database.
A conference is due to be held in the resort in the autumn which some of the world’s leading childcare experts are expected to attend.
Better Start is focused on improving outcomes for children from birth to aged three, concentrating on the seven most deprived wards - Bloomfield, Brunswick, Claremont, Clifton, Park, Talbot and Victoria.
Linked children’s centres are Claremont, Grange Park, Mereside, Revoe, St Cuthbert’s, Talbot and Brunswick, and Thames.