Parents hit out at Sure Start cuts

Sure Start Phoenix Centre in Sutton.Left is Jayne-Marie Leponis with some of the parents of babies at the centre
Sure Start Phoenix Centre in Sutton.Left is Jayne-Marie Leponis with some of the parents of babies at the centre

WORRIED parents have slammed “short-sighted” cuts to St Helens’ Sure Start children’s centres.

Council chiefs confirmed last week that the borough’s early intervention Sure Start programme had to be “reduced” because of a 23 per cent cut in grants from Westminster.

The local funding cut was sparked after the previous “ring-fencing” of national Sure Start cash was removed by central Government.

But a group of local parents are angry about the loss of staff from their local Sure Start centre and, as a result, a loss of popular classes and programmes too.

Jayne Leponis, 41, a regular visitor to Sutton Children’s Centre with her nine-month-old son, Thom, told the St Helens Reporter: “It’s essential that these services continue to be provided for local children and their parents - this centre is of real value to the community. As well as being great for kids it helps parents to get out, meet other parents and share stories and experiences. It helps you to realise that you’re not on your own.

“We noticed that some of the activities started disappearing before Christmas and now there’s hardly anything compared to what they used to offer. It’s also upsetting that parents haven’t been allowed to voice their concerns. If the number of activities continues to dwindle then they won’t keep a centre of this size open.

“The staff are fantastically trained and provide an invaluable service. Who will support new mothers in this area if the centre disappears? It’s so short-sighted.”

Sure Start children’s centres were created in Parr and Sutton in recent years to help give families a leg-up, and local youngsters a better start in life.

As well as running first aid courses, breast feeding groups, baby weighing and healthy eating clinics, they are also designed to offer more unusual activities such as baby massage and baby yoga.

Helen Holland, 33, who volunteers at Sutton Children’s Centre and is a regular visitor with her 11-month-old son, Kurt, said: “Kurt is my first child and having the support of Sure Start has really helped me with so many little things that first time mums don’t always know. If you feel stuck at home it gets you out and about and helps the children - I’ve already noticed that my son is not shy because of all the interaction he enjoys.

“It’s such a shame. These centres were brought in for a reason but if they go they might not come back. I wish they would look at other ways to secure funding, perhaps by letting more groups pay to use the centre?”

A spokeswoman for St Helens PCT, which runs the Sutton centre, said: “We are doing all we can to secure jobs but have to face the prospect this may not be possible in the long term. It is an extremely difficult time for all concerned.”