Located beside the Wincheap Primary School, Little Hands Children’s Centre has been providing essential services for families in the area for over a decade. Supporting children and their carers, its helpful staff and warm welcome have quickly made it a local favourite. On any given day, it might offer a combination of midwife clinic, developmental checks, lactation advice, play sessions, childminding courses, life skills, twins’ groups, mobile farms and more. It is impossible to estimate just how many Wincheap and Thanington families have benefited from the centre, a fact which the ward’s Labour council candidate, Paul Todd, decided to celebrate on Valentine’s Day this year.
On Thursday afternoon, Paul and his Labour activists spoke with parents at the school gates, many of whom warmly expressed their appreciation of the centre. Some recalled how reassured they had been, as new parents, by the support on offer, others praised the range of services, or the understanding they experienced when in difficulties. “They came and visited me at home when I was struggling,” said local mum Laura, “I had no idea they could do that. I felt so much better that they thought I mattered enough to do that.” Emma, who didn’t know many people in the area, had received an invitation to join a baby group, and felt accepted at once. “I had no idea what I was doing first time round, and I was so glad to meet other mothers going through the same issues, in an environment that wasn’t pressured or judgemental. They helped me find my feet.”
And yet, the wonderful Sure Start initiative came under attack when the Conservatives took power in 2010. Established twelve years before by Tessa Jowell, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the intention of the centres was to “give the children the very best possible start in life,” a sentiment central to the building of strong, healthy families at the heart of our communities. Now though, a study by the Sutton Trust charity, suggests that up to 1,000 such centres may have been closed in the last eight years. “This is outrageous,” explains Mr Todd, “and the children who will be hit hardest by the closures are the most vulnerable among us, the very ones for whom the centres were created.”
On Thursday, Paul Todd and his fellow activists collected dozens of signatures in support of the Little Hands Centre, covering both sides of a large Valentine’s card and spilling onto a separate sheet. Parents, carers, grandparents, friends and children were keen to show their appreciation for the centre, for what it gives the community and the hard work of all its staff. There was a lot of love for the Sure Start Centre this Valentine’s Day. Labour councillors in Canterbury, present and future, will continue to fight to preserve the rights and needs of our children and families.