In a bid to reduce overall spending by £18 million from April 2015, Swindon Council is proposing to reduce the £2.1 million cost of running children’s centres by around 37 per cent.
In a report to the cabinet on 23 July, councillors considered how to save £770,000 by combining, closing or repurposing children’s centres across the town.
Last year councillors cut spending by £380,000 which saw children’s centres close or amalgamated.
The council now wants to:
• Turn West Swindon Family Project and Butterflies Children’s Centre, covering North Swindon, into pilot multi-generational family centres, with 66 per cent of existing funding, for up to two years. They will need to raise money and work towards reducing the need for council funding;
• De-commission Butterflies, West Swindon Family Project, Salt Way in Middleleaze, Ladybirds Highworth, Eldene, Croft, Robert Le Kyng, as children’s centres which may lead to their de-registration by Ofsted;
• Unchanged will be: Penhill & Pinehurst, Moredon, Drove, Gorse Hill (the Supercluster) and Parks & Walcot East.
Consultation about the changes will take place until 3 October with comments discussed at the 22 October cabinet.
Bob Buckley, headteacher of Abbey Meads Primary School and head of Butterflies Children’s Centre, hopes users will respond to the consultation.
He said: “Last year, all centre heads worked very closely with the council to implement a new funding scheme that matched the needs across the town whilst securing significant reductions in running costs.
“Butterflies had to submit a 3 year financial plan to justify an increased grant and employed skilled and committed staff in good faith on this basis. Now we are told – 3 months into a new system – that we face further substantial cuts which put the job security of all team members into jeopardy.
“It is even worse for our friends in some of the other children’s centres which now face total closure. The report states that even with these cuts the funding will only last up to two years – which means yet more could follow.
“It is impossible to attract and retain high quality staff when there is so little confidence in the way the funding is managed.
“It is too early to say whether turning Butterflies into a self-financing multi-generational family centre could be successful. But I am certain generating over £200,000 annually, whilst successfully offering meaningful services to vulnerable families in our area, will be a challenge.”
A recent Ofsted report commended Butterflies centre for its positive impact on the lives of vulnerable families with limited resources and how families value the support provided, though it calls for more families to be helped.
Mr Buckley added: “We will struggle to come close to matching our services with need in the future with only 66 per cent (and potentially decreasing) funding. Some staff will have to spend time seeking grants rather than helping families in need.”
The cabinet report says Swindon will have 17 more health visitors by 2015 and more of the most vulnerable two years olds will receive 15 hours of early years education each week.
See the report: bit.ly/swindonccfunding
Below, happier times, November 2011, leader of Swindon Council and North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson celebrate the first year of the opening of Butterflies in purpose built facilities at Abbey Meads Primary School, with local children’s author Neil Griffiths
Tanya Parkinson, manager of Butterflies Children’s Centre in North Swindon – the centre with the third highest number of children in need in Swindon – writes to parents saying that up to half the staff will lose their jobs under Swindon Council’s proposals. 1
It is with much sadness, that just 8 weeks since my last newsletter, in which we announced increased funding, introduced our additional 5 members of staff and began to increase the number of activities we offer, that I am write about our shock at being informed by Swindon Borough Council that they propose to remove Butterflies Children’s Centre from service, with effect from 31 March 2015.
Over the past four years we have strived to become a focal point within your community. We offer a range of activities open to all children and their families under 5 (our Parent Support Advisors work with children up to the age of 11).
Our open groups such as Stay and Play are planned using the same framework as pre-schools and nurseries, aiming to help children attending to achieve good levels of development when they begin their school life. Our data is evidence that we are well above the local and national levels for achieving this. We also run a number of targeted groups for families who need more specific support.
Our successful baby groups are an opportunity for mums /dads/carers to come together and take part in sensory and planned activities which support attachment, bonding and babies development.
The three baby clinics run from Butterflies are attended by over 650 people a month and we often welcome over 300 adults and children into our Centre each week.
We have 2,927 children under 5 living within our community, 1,450 children alone are registered with Butterflies.
Despite recent statements made to the media to the contrary, the community Butterflies Children’s Centre serves the third highest number of children in need in Swindon, behind the Penhill/Pinehurst Centre and the Goddard Park Centre.
We are currently working with over 70 families on an individual basis, offering in-home support; these families have a range of sometimes complex needs, such as Children on a Child Protection Plan, Children with Special needs, children affected by domestic violence, neglect; or with challenging behaviour.
We have high numbers of parents with depression and/or low mood within our community. These are challenges faced by families from many different social backgrounds and walks of life and we are extremely worried about the impact withdrawing this Children’s Centre from service will have on the whole community.
Under the new Borough proposals it is more than likely over half the Centre staff would lose their jobs and the current quality and range of services would be unsustainable.
We use our funding from Swindon Borough Council to very heavily subsidise our groups and our targeted work. The new proposals to decommission our Children’s Centre to a Family Multi-Generational Centre with much reduced funding would potentially result in much higher fees to attend: would those who really need our support the most be able to afford to come?
This letter is appealing to all members of our community – parents, children, grandparents, schools, pre-schools and agency partners. If you disagree with the proposal to remove your Children’s Centre from service please show your support in as many ways as you can.
During the public consultation which ends on 3 October we need to campaign against the cuts. We will be starting a petition which we urge as many people to sign as possible. There will be three public consultation meetings, where members of Swindon Borough Council will attend to hear your views.
It has been a privilege working with so many families over the past 4 years, please help Butterflies Children’s Centre stay open and support our fight against cuts to which, in our opinion, is an essential Early Years Service!
See who to write to at Butterflies Childrens’ Centre