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Lambeth launches consultation on children’s centre changes

Lambeth Council has launched its consultation into the future of children’s centres in the borough. The consultation sets out how Lambeth has worked to protect children’s centres, despite a significant cut in their funding from central government.

As funding cuts begin to bite, Lambeth Life explores at how the council is looking to manage its budget – and the response of one children’s centre that is set to suffer from the cuts under proposed plans.

Continuing cuts and funding changes from central government are forcing the council to make some changes to the way children’s centres are run in the borough. The consultation will set out the proposed changes and ask residents to have their say on them.

The council has had its budget cut by more than half since 2010 and the government’s changes to the Dedicated Schools Grant mean that the council has £1.4 million less a year to spend on children’s centres.

Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite, Deputy Leader of the Council (Children and Young People), said: “In Lambeth, we really value early years services and know that they make a vital difference in supporting young children to grow and develop. This is especially true for children who come from the poorest backgrounds.

“That’s why to date we’ve done all we can to protect our twenty-three children’s centres, one of the highest numbers of any London borough, despite eight years of government cuts.”

“But the government’s cuts and changes to the grant have put us in an impossible situation and we are being forced to make some changes.”

“However, despite the scale of the challenge, our proposals is to keep 18 centres open across the borough. Our proposals ensure that every part of our borough has a network of excellent local centres that can provide support to families and they retain our commitment to giving every child in Lambeth the best start in life.”

The council’s proposals will see children’s centres reorganised into six groups by area in the borough, with one centre being the lead for each area.

The proposed centres are:
• 11 core children’s centres offering a full programme of activities every morning and afternoon throughout the week. Services available will include health visiting services, stay and play, crèches, parenting support and adult learning activities such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.

• 7 link centres that will be open every morning or afternoon and offer a range of children’s centre activities, including stay and play sessions and support for parents and families.

• The 18 centres will be grouped into six cluster areas, and in each cluster area there will be one lead provider responsible for delivering the services across the children’s centres. The lead provider will employ a team of staff including Better Start workers who will provide one to one support for families living in the area who need additional help.

For the five remaining centres, the council is working with schools and communities try and ensure that no building actually closes and that as many services as possible continue there, such as free childcare for eligible two-year-olds and free nursery places for three-year-olds.

You can find out more about these proposals and have your say by:
• Collecting a booklet from your centre – they are available in all 23 children’s centres in Lambeth
• Or going online – visit Lambeth.gov.uk/childrens-centres-consultation

The consultation closes on 10th February 2019.

Coin Street

Coin Street is one of the five centres which are due to see a 100% funding cut under the current proposals. “We have been proudly supporting young Lambeth families in our purpose-built and accessible neighbourhood centre since 2007” says David Hopkins, Coin Street’s director of community. “We believe in giving families and children the best start in life, to support them to be happy, healthy and resilient to life’s challenges. The proposed cuts will hit our Lambeth families and children hard and are likely to have significant impact in the longer term, particularly to vulnerable families and those most at risk.”

If the proposals go through, families and children currently accessing the Ofsted Outstanding Coin Street family and children’s centre, will have a 25-minute walk to the nearest children’s centre in Kennington or Oval. “Experience tells us that families, especially vulnerable families, access services where they feel safe and where they have built relationships and trust with an organisation and members of the team there. Our families regularly tell us how at home they feel at the neighbourhood centre. If they have to travel somewhere new, we are concerned they will just fall through the net.

“Residents at this end of the borough often lose out on funding because there is a perception that it is all bankers and brokers up here. We work with families on local estates struggling to make ends meet every day and they need help on the doorstep as much as families do in Brixton and Stockwell” says David.

“We are unusual amongst children’s centres in Lambeth in that we are not a school-led provision and we offer services for families with babies (from 3 months) and continue to work with them as children become pre-teens, teens and young adults” says David. “Activities at Coin Street family and children’s centre do not stop at 5 years and/ or 5pm on a Friday. We run activities across the weekend and during school holidays.”

We may be surrounded by the cultural attractions of the South Bank and pockets of wealth, but there is a high level of deprivation at this end of the borough. “Unlike other children’s centres in Lambeth, Coin Street family and children’s centre is run by social enterprise Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB). This means that CSCB invests income generated from its range of commercial businesses into over 80 hours of free and affordable programmes and activities every week for families, children, young people, adults and older people.

“We believe that the Coin Street family and children’s centre provides strong value for money as a partner to Lambeth Council. We have consistently increased the amount we invest as an organisation in children’s centre provision year on year as local authority funding has diminished.”

Since 2010/11 Lambeth funding to CSCB has reduced by over 60% but CSCB believes in the importance of early intervention and has maintained the services at Coin Street family and children’s centre by investing more of its own funds. But there is a limit to how much Coin Street can subsidise the services.

According to Coin Street, Lambeth’s proposals have not yet taken into account:
• quality of service provision
• the ability of partners to bring their own funding to the table
• availability of families and children activities and support beyond 5 years
• the importance of the weekend family provision including specialist groups such as our LGBT Parents Group and Dads and Male Carers provision

“We hope we and our families will be able to convince Lambeth to review their proposals to ensure we are able to continue to provide families and children – including those most at risk – with the best start in life” says David.

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