Monday, 28 October 2013

Update on Callis Grange Sure Start Petition

From: Cllr Jenny Matterface

When it was announced that KCC planned to reduce the opening hours of Callis Grange Sure Start Centre from 40 hours to 18 there was a feeling of shock all round. The Isle of Thanet Gazette took up the story following my call and ran a feature demonstrating how well Sure Start has proved its worth in Broadstairs by, among other content, featuring a young mother who was adamant that ’Sure Start has turned my life around’. She had found employment and using the experience gained has since moved on to a better-paid job with more social hours. ‘I couldn’t have done it without the help and support I got from the centre’. Another mother said ‘I’m  a different person now and a better mother.’

A Kent-wide online petition followed the July announcement, attracting responses from all over the county giving clear evidence of the value we put on this vital resource. The consultation period started and over 5000 responses were received at County Hall from all areas where services were under threat from either closure or reduced hours. I was gratified to be told that there was an excellent response from users and supporters of the Callis Grange centre.

Here in Beacon Road Ward we decided that a paper-based petition would enable us to meet face-to-face users of the centre by door-knocking and we gathered 300 signatures in three short sessions in the streets in the immediate area.

With the help of County Councillor Will Scobie we were able to arrange a meeting with Cllr. Jenny Whittle, cabinet member responsible, at County Hall on October 11th where she gave us an hour allowing Will, Frances Rehal, from Faversham who set up the first Sure Start in Kent, and me plenty of time to put our case for keeping the centre fully-open.
Cllr. Whittle told us she’d been impressed by the enthusiasm that users of the centre have shown. I feel this was reflected in the very good, first OFSTED report carried out on the centre in July, around the time the centre was under threat of reduced hours.

A decision will be made soon about the centre’s future and I hope we have done enough to persuade the powers-that-be of the vital service offered to local residents. The short-term benefits of the Sure Start system are evident in the parents who have gained qualifications, employment, entered further and higher education following their involvement with Callis Grange Sure Start Centre. The long-term benefits may not be known for years when the children currently attending themselves become parents.

Research has shown that for every £1 spent on early in a child’s education, family support and intervention saves £7 in later years in relation to reduced crime, better school outcomes, fewer teenage pregnancies and more employment. This is why these centres need our support.

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