A consortium of groups including Derby County Council, Belper Town Council, Future Housing Group and volunteers Belper Early Years Fun have joined forces to help rescue valuable services for young families in Belper.
The volunteers, Belper Early Years Fun, rallied to rescue services after Derbyshire County Council (DCC) closed the centre as part of plans to deal with Government cuts.
Cuts to services have been deep, with children’s service budgets already reduced from £127m to £90m and a further £68m to come by 2019. After a long consultation the DCC decided to close 29 Children’s Centres, including the one in Belper.
At the time the DCC stated: “Despite doing everything we could to keep all our children’s centres open, the size of the cuts meant we had to review the service and take the very difficult decision to close some of them.”
Futures Housing Group agreed to let for a ‘peppercorn rent’ Belper Children’s Centre in Alder Road to local volunteers who are determined to provide support services to vulnerable families in the area. With the assistance of Futures’ rent agreement and support from other local people, the group can continue providing valuable services at the centre such as playgroups and breastfeeding peer support groups which are accessed by around 200 people.
Angie Hodgson, who co-ordinates the group of 15 volunteers, said: “We were devastated when we heard that DCC were having to close the children’s centres as we know how valuable they are to the local community. When we heard that an agreement had been reached for us to continue providing services, it was really emotional. We have poured so much into making this happen.
“We are really grateful to Futures for continuing to lease the centre on a peppercorn rent and grateful to Derbyshire County Council for holding the lease and allowing us to keep some of the toys and equipment.”
Angie said the future looks bright for the centre with plans already being pieced together to expand services to include primary school aged children.
Suki Jandu, Futures’ Group Customer Experience Director, said: “Futures has a clear corporate aim to create great places so we’re delighted that we can support such a committed group of volunteers. While no-one wants to see services cut, stories like this are a heart-warming reminder of how communities can step in and save the day.”
Futures, which manages around 9,100 homes throughout the East Midlands, has also donated £500 to the group as part of its Futures Fund initiative to provide new signage at the site, toys and some landscaping tools.
A number of other groups and individuals have pledged financial support for the group including Belper Town Council, CVS, and Derbyshire County Councillors John Owen and Stuart Bradford who each donated £1,000 to the cause.
Derbyshire County Council Local Member for Belper Councillor John Owen said: “We don’t want to be in a position where we’re closing facilities like children’s centres, but severe budget cuts mean we don’t have the funds we need to run services in the way we have before.
“We’ve continued to work with local groups and organisations to make the best use of dwindling resources and I’m very pleased to support Belper Years Early Fun in its new partnership with Futures Housing.”
Duffield and Belper South Councillor Stuart Bradford said: “Following my early visit to Angie and advice and contact with Futures Housing Group, I am delighted that this well-used facility can now continue for the benefit of all the children and parents in the area. I would like to thank Cllr Owen for his support in this matter.”
The group has a business plan behind it which includes sub-letting rooms at the centre to generate income and providing volunteering opportunities to help train local people in communication skills and confidence.