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Fears for the future of Marlborough’s Sure Start centre are averted

The Corner House Sure Start centre in the George Lane car park is under new management – averting fears that it might be among those centres around the nation closed by spending cuts.

The centre was set-up by a local charity – the Rural Needs Initiative, which also ran the centre in Tidworth.

Both centres were part of the ground breaking scheme to support families with children under five years old and both centres are now run by the London-based, not-for-profit organisation 4Children.

4Children is the third largest voluntary provider in the country.  They were calling for a Sure Start-type scheme ten years ago and because of their expertise and research, they were called into Downing Street to help shape the previous government’s policy.

4Children  now run sixteen of Wiltshire’s centres – as well as nineteen in Essex.

Sure Start provides a place where children under five and their parents can receive joined-up support services. These include: early education and childcare; support for parents – with advice on parenting and local childcare options; child and family health; helping parents into work.

Wiltshire has thirty of these centres and last year the Council decided to put them out to tender.  The resulting changes mean that just four providers now run all thirty schemes and the mix of Council staff, local charities, trustee groups and school governors who up to March ran sixteen centres, have lost out.

[See our companion story for the impact of these changes on local charities:” Has Wiltshire Council forgotten about localism and the ‘Big Society’?”]

The national charity Action for Children (with Methodist roots and formerly known as the National Children’s Home) also lost out in the tendering process.  They had run seven of Wiltshire’s centres.
Marlborough’s Corner House centre has a full-time outreach worker, three part-time support workers and a coordinator, as well as a team of volunteers. They have all been taken on by 4Children who are in the process of appointing a new manager.

The previous manager of the Corner House, Sue Deedigan, is now in charge of the group of five 4Children centres in east Wiltshire: two in Devizes, one in Pewsey, one in Tidworth, and Marlborough’s  Corner House.

Sue told Marlborough News Online she’s excited about the change: “With 4Children’s experience and guidance I am confident we will be able to provide better support and services for the children across the Marlborough community area than ever before.”

4Children’s deputy chief executive, Charles Ellis, told us that they’re planning to develop the services provided by its Wiltshire centres. His motto is ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, but if they find gaps in the services to families with young children, he wants to fill them.
And he promises that 4Children will carry on campaigning to make sure that “Sure Start does not get lost during the difficult financial situation”.

Why did Wiltshire make these changes – taking funding and responsibility away from local charities and passing it to larger and more distant providers? 

As well as 4Children’s 16 centres in Wiltshire, the other three managements are now Barnardo’s -  two centres (down from five last year): Spurgeons (a charity with Baptist origins based in Northamptonshire) – nine centres. The only local charity to survive the changes is the Rise Trust of Chippenham which has kept the management of its three local centres.

In a statement to Marlborough News Online, Wiltshire Council explained that they were able to limit the impact of government cuts by getting the largest possible savings from economies of scale in the new contracts.

However, Council documents from before the 2010 election make it clear that achieving ‘economies of scale’ was always one of the aims of the tendering process.  Further reduction in funding was made possible when the coalition government ruled that Sure Start budgets were no longer to be ring-fenced.
The Council’s aim now is that “Through targeting work at the families in most need, services will still be provided in all areas of the county and for children under five in most need.”

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