Children lose their nursery, business owners speak out and community leaders battling against severe deprivation in St Ann’s.
The Austerity Bus was back in the Midlands today, visiting Ilkeston and Nottingham and for the first time in a few days we saw the sunshine, but things still managed to feel quite bleak at times.
We visited a Sure Start Children’s Centre in Ilkeston, in the very heart of a very deprived community. A more colourful, friendly, welcoming place you couldn’t find, the staff there had asked parents to come along to meet us to talk about what was happening in their lives. Everything is being made harder for these women, but this centre is providing huge emotional support.
The centre is now, after the cuts, a Sure Start Children’s Centre funded by the local authority rather than the Sure Start Centres that were funded directly from the (then) Department for Children, Schools and Families. This has meant their funding has been severely decreased and they have had to change their way of working. They have lost their full-time nursery, it closed in February. The sight of the large empty room and empty tiny coat pegs was actually really upsetting; the centre manager was clearly devastated to lose this service. They still manage to run some childcare provision, but rather than 60 places there are 16, rather than five days a week its three and they cannot provide for under twos. I was told how much this has had an impact on the centre and families. Aside from the obvious – families don’t have safe, affordable, flexible, local childcare provision which will impact on their ability to work – there are wider effects. The number of people coming through the door has decreased and this impacts on the centre’s ability to make those all-important subtle behind the scenes interventions and to help when families are struggling. David Cameron said in May 2010, ‘Yes, we back sure start, it is a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. ‘ However, funding was then cut by a third over two years and more than 400 sure start centres have closed within the first two years of the coalition government, with over half of those still open no longer providing any onsite childcare. Hollow words indeed.
But despite all of this, the centre is still very much the centre of the community, the women we met spoke about how much they need the support they get from the amazing staff there. I spoke with Christine who has three boys, the youngest of whom is three. She is now in a happy relationship, but fled domestic violence four years ago and has been trying to rebuild her life ever since. The centre is helping her to volunteer and retrain, when I spoke with her she was just about to do an afternoon session on health and safety and first aid with St John’s Ambulance whilst the centre looked after her youngest. She says this type of learning is rebuilding her confidence and helping her to prepare to get back to work, which she really wants to do, but needs more skills and childcare support. She told me how much harder it is to make the money stretch, but having the social contact with other mums and the staff at the centre really helps her to know that’s she’s not on her own.
As Ministers haggle over how much their departments will be further cut by in George Osborne’s plans to strip £11.5bn out of public spending, I really worry that down the line, services like Ilkeston Sure Start Children’s Centre will suffer further. It is a genuine life line to so many parents and children, I really don’t know what some of the women we heard from would do without it.
We then set off for nearby Ilkeston high street, what was once a thriving town, is now very bare indeed. We spoke to a small group of local business owners who were very clear that government cuts coupled with a lack of growth strategy has left their high street suffering. And it is, we saw boarded up shops and cash for gold ‘outlets’ and bookies in abundance, whilst Paul who ran a smoothie café has moved premises three times in his desire to succeed.
Local businesses have petitioned Primark to set up in the high street in a bid to increase footfall. However, they have yet to hear back and there are real fears that what was once a burgeoning shopping district will become a ghost town.
Ilkeston illustrates what happens when shopping habits change couple with consumer demand being sucked out of an area. Well-known high brands have deserted this high street and have yet to be enticed back.
Paul (pictured above) is determined to make a success of his smoothie business but is having to pay a real personal price for his ambition. Four years on from re-locating his family to Derbyshire from London he cannot afford to buy things he took for granted before.
We then travelled to St Ann’s in Nottingham, an exceptionally deprived area even before the crash and recession. Everyone tells us how much worse everything is now. I was shocked that every single shop bar a bookies and a charity shop had closed in what was once a busy little centre of the community. It looked bleak, and things worsened when the Coop pulled out of the area, meaning the nearest supermarket is now over 5 miles away. We met Chris from the advice centre, who ‘s care for the people he works with and the work he does is evident, he is angry about what he is witnessing in austerity Britain. We met Steph, one of the advisers doing at least four people’s jobs due to lack of funds. She runs the independent food bank in her ‘spare time’. This food bank deals with families in absolute crisis, with little or no income, they feed about 50 people a week but have to turn anyone but the most severe cases away. Her passion and determination was incredible, I challenge anyone to go and see her and not end up donating or volunteering.
This summed up how precarious the situation can be for anyone, “Family circumstances can change very quickly. I know a couple who a year ago both had full-time jobs and who had been on holiday in Orlando. They were both made redundant and just twelve months later had to come to this food bank. Loads of people have had the rug pulled from under them.”