Special feature
Giving children the best possible start

By Harriet Ernstsons Wednesday 02 January 2013 Updated: 02/01 14:03

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Buy photos » Sure Start staff - information worker Sarah Walker, support worker Mo Dennis, volunteer worker Ali Wakeman and finance monitoring officer Mollie Smith. Pictures by Marcus Mingins 5112019MMR2. Order these pictures at www.buyphotos247.com.

FAMILIES in Redditch have been turning to Sure Start for help and advice for more than a decade.

But what do the six centres dotted around the borough actually provide for those in need?

Reporter Harriet Ernstsons met information worker Sarah Walker and acting programme manager Louise Langston to find out more.

STOP smoking advice, drug and alcohol education, baby massage, information about feeding children - the list of services offered at Sure Start Children’s Centres is endless.

The first site opened in 2006, five years after Redditch Borough Council successfully bid for money from the Government. Staff had been previously working out of community buildings in the town.

Now the 50 members of staff and 38 volunteers have six buildings to work from in Batchley, Riverside, Lodge Park, Matchborough, Church Hill and Woodrow.

Each one is located on or near a bus route so those without their own transport can reach them and all rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

In the past six years, the YMCA has been running two of the sites, with the council responsible for the other four.

But integrated working means both organisations hope to offer the same service to the public, regardless of which centre they attend.

Information worker Sarah Walker said: “We aim to provide local families with children under five services and groups to help them so families can get involved with their children’s developmental health and education until they get to school.”

Many of the courses and information sessions are focused around enabling families to provide a better lifestyle for their young ones - whether it is interacting more with their baby or learning how to introduce them to solid foods.”

The importance of working with other professionals within the community is also a high priority for the centres, working with speech and language teams in a bid to improve speech development.

Speakers of Polish and Urdu work within the centres to provide a range of services to those for whom English is not their first language, while community midwives, CAB, counsellors and many others also work from the buildings.

“If somebody comes in to one of the Children’s Centres with a child under five we will endeavour to help them and if we can’t help them we will find someone who can. No one should leave without some advice or some form of help.”

Acting programme manager Louise Langston said the ethos had always been to provide universal services that everybody can attend.

“We try and create a welcoming atmosphere as we know for some people to walk through the door it takes a lot of courage.

Our aims include getting people back in to jobs or education and ensuring their children are ready for school.”

The service is set to evolve again as the Government looks at Sure Start expanding to cover youngsters aged from birth to 19.

“This will involve us linking with schools more and perhaps offering advice such as living skills for teens and budgeting.

“If parents have any ideas about services they would like us to provide we would like them to let us know.”

Search ‘Redditch Childrens Centres’ on Facebook, visit redditchchildrenscentres.wordpress.com or follow @scootsquirrel on Twitter for more information about the service.

Here are some of examples of how the work of Sure Start has benefited residents from the town.

JENNA referred herself for support and advice on sleep and behaviour, working with support worker Louise Hall.

After a couple of months, she arrived at Maple Trees Children’s Centre in Matchborough one day in desperate need of help and support after becoming a single parent to two children, sleeping on the sofa of a relative.

Louise was able to work with CAB, the council and Shaw Trust to help Jenna with her housing situation and finances. She is now in a house and in a much better position, continuing to work with the Shaw Trust in a bid to get back into work.

MARK started attending groups aimed at dads with his son Kyle after becoming a parent aged 17.

After volunteering at Stay and Play sessions, he successfully applied for an assistant apprenticeship, gaining a qualification in children and young people’s workforce by attending a day release course at NEW College.

His training at Sure Start has enabled him to gain a full-time job at a YMCA nursery Squirrels as an early years practitioner.

KAT decided to give something back to the service after receiving support, volunteering at Holly Trees Children’s Centre in Riverside in 2011.

Since then she has completed courses in numeracy, literacy and first aid. This has given her the ability to join a foundation access course and a diploma at college.

She said: “I really appreciate what the Children’s Centres have done for me. They have supported me through difficult times and I don’t know what I would have done without the support of Mo Dennis, he was brilliant.”

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Buy photos» Kat Fynn with daughter Phoebe, two, and Mark Daniell with son Kyle, three, are two of the centres' success stories 5112019MMR1

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