When my first child was 5 weeks old we started to attend our local Surestart centre in Hucknall. At this stage it was the BIBS (Breast Is Best Support) session. As the title suggests it was a breastfeeding support social group, which was run by a health visitor who could answer questions and concerns. I was very much at the “am I doing this right” stage but it was an eye opener to mix with the other mothers there with their older babies and children talking about weaning and suchlike which was unchartered territory to me. We didn’t go every week but it did add some structure to the day, even the week, and something to look forward to. At this stage our attendance there was for my, rather than my baby’s, social life and I made friends with likeminded mums with whom to compare notes on sleeping, feeding and development.
As the babies, and parental confidence, grew such groups became much more about stimulation for the tots. Surestart again came through with toddler groups offering messy play activities, song and story times, outdoor activities, pushchair walks and structured play in the form of Busy Feet. Each group was always clearly well planned and facilitated with warm, friendly environments and friendly, helpful staff always with the time to listen and empathise with parents. They had amazingly creative ideas, such as making bubble paintings, playing with shaving foam and toy cars and using porridge oats to dig in. It also saved all the mess that would result from a toddler with a short attention span, from happening at home. Not only this they offered nutritional advice on weaning and always ensured there was healthy. enjoyable snacks and drinks for the children. Surestart centres were a firm fixture in my diary and a port in a, sometimes turbulent, storm.
More recently the Surestart centres have given me an opening to explore new career options in the (means tested) community courses they offer, with free crèche places. Nail art, sugarcraft, an amazing “analyse yourself” type business course with a great motivational tutor, wirecraft and jewellery making including crochet, complementary therapies and aromatherapy courses are some of the ones I have done in the past year. The next course, which I am very much looking forward to, is a Peer Support Breastfeeding course and also a Volunteers course so I can hopefully help support new mothers in the early years (and, selfishly, also because I absolutely love little babies!). I am able to attend these courses with the safe knowledge that my little cherubs are under the same roof, having great fun with their friends and excellent childcare staff. It has really helped with socialising my youngest child, who has yet to go to nursery and be away from me for any period of time.
Surestart centres were introduced by the Labour government and are now under threat of closure, possibly because there is the belief that they aren’t actually reaching the neediest families for whom they were aimed at. There will certainly be cuts back in the services offered over the next few years. It is really sad as I think they provide a vital link to health services and socialisation opportunites that could take many years to come to fruition, until the babies of today are fully grown or longer. It also is a great forum for parents from all spectrums of society to get together on an equal footing and share experiences. So, if you read this and you haven’t given your local Surestart centre a try, make the time to check them out, whilst they are still there offering such a fantastic and much needed service for all families with young children.