Children's centre changes: can Preston's Star still shine as a community facility?
Campaigners fighting to save a 90-year-old community centre in Preston say they are confident that a future can be found for the building - in spite of a decision to withdraw the main service which it offers.
The Ashton Young People’s Centre - known locally as “The Star” - is one of 19 builidngs which Lancashire County Council has decided will no longer deliver its children and family wellbeing work. The Star has been used to provide disabled services for 11-19-year-olds.
But it is also home to a decades-old weekly youth club for junior school children - and now campaigners say they want other community groups to make use of the building in order to secure its future in light of the authority’s decision.
The 46 Preston Scouts want to move into the building from their current base, because they believe it will be more cost effective.
“The scouts have got a vision that they can be the anchor tenant at The Star - and run it on a not-for-profit basis,” said County Cllr Gillian Oliver, in whose Preston South West division The Star sits.
“People don’t know that it’s available to be booked - it’s not marketed, so we think it’s got a terrifically strong future.
“We’re willing to work with businesses and local people to keep this for Ashton,” she said.
Group scout leader, Ian Walls, said dads and lads, zumba and learning disability groups had all expressed an interest in taking up residence.
“The community centre is for everybody and if we can tempt people into it, so much the better,” he said.
Kellie Dunkley attended the youth club at The Star when she was in school - and now one of her own children, 11-year-old Maisie, is a regular visitor. Maisie’s younger sister, Scarlett, had been looking forward to joining her when she turns eight next year.
“I’m gutted, it’s sad to lose something so close to my heart,” Kellie said.
“Young children have got nowhere else to go round here - and anything there is, they have to pay for. The Star used to organise trips for children whose parents couldn't afford it.”
Lancashire County Council told the local democracy reporting service that it was “exploring” other options for the 8-11-year-olds’ club.
But beaver scout leader, Natalie Lawless, said she was confident that The Star itself could have a bright future if enough community groups could be brought through its doors. She and her three children spent an afternoon out of their Easter holidays listening to the cabinet discussion about the centre at County Hall.
“It would be brilliant to see it bloom - it just needs to be reimagined back to life,” she said outside the meeting.
CHILDREN’S CENTRE CHANGES
Services for vulnerable children and their families will be delivered from seven fewer buildings across Lancashire, after the final stage of an overhaul was approved.
Lancashire County Council announced plans last November to reduce the number of bases for its children and family wellbeing operations from 76 to 57.
The services include those for safeguarding children, supporting family life and promoting health and wellbeing.
Following an initial public consultation, a decision was made to stop operating from 12 buildings - with further work being carried out to identify another seven where services would cease, out of a list of 14.
The revised proposals were approved by members of the authority’s cabinet and will result in some centres continuing to deliver the services when they were originally due to see staff move out.
“There were too few staff covering the buildings and some of [them] were only delivering a service once a week,” Conservative member for health and wellbeing, Shaun Turner, told the cabinet meeting.
“Freeing up these buildings means a far more effective service can be offered from those that remain.
“It must be remembered that 97 percent of the total service is delivered into family homes - and the 2018 OFSTED inspection [of the county’s children’s services] found that this part of the service was making a real difference,” County Cllr Turner added.
Members also heard that some wellbeing services are now offered at “street level” and can be more reactive to issues like anti-social behaviour.
Several of the buildings which will see children’s services removed also provide other facilities - some delivered by the county council and others by third parties.
Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali, said consideration should be given to the wider impact of the changes on buildings like the Walton Lane Children’s Centre in Pendle, which also operates as a maintained nursery school.
“It would have a massive impact of the financial status of the nursery, which is already one of [those] in a difficult position,” County Cllr Ali said.
“County Cllr Turner and I visited the centre, and it was quite emotional, because some of the parents have kids with special educational needs and they talked about their experiences.
“If it wasn’t for the dedication of the staff and the support they have, those children would be lost in the educational system and many of those families who benefit from the service being based in the nursery wouldn’t have that support,” he added.
County Cllr Turner said he would be “lying if I didn’t say what a great job [the nursery] is doing”.
“The problem is the children and family wellbeing service is incidental to the main business... [and] the whole point is to try and make the [wellbeing] money work better,” he said.
The meeting heard that the final list had been drawn up after considering each building’s running costs and accessibility and the likely impact of any changes on the local community. Not all of the centres are council-owned buildings.
In a statement after the meeting, Edwina Grant OBE, executive director for education and children's services, said: "Our priority remains to provide the very best service we can to the people in Lancashire in most need of our support.
"After careful consideration and analysis of the results from the consultations, the cabinet has made a decision that will ensure that we can continue to provide the service to the people in our community that need it most.
"The work we do to support people isn't changing and we're not reducing the number of front-line workers that provide this valued service. However, by delivering the service from fewer venues we can make much-needed savings while still providing support to people who need it most."