Influential children’s center Pen Green faces closure due to council cuts | Politics
IIt’s been called the world’s most famous children’s centre, a globally influential family project for early years that grew out of one of the UK’s most deprived communities and inspired Sure Start. Now this great British success story faces disaster – at the hands of its Tory-led local council.
The North Northamptonshire council executive meets on Tuesday morning to discuss proposals to cut funding for Green pen, a pioneering state-funded nursery school in the former steel town of Corby. There is a growing outcry. “Why do they punish people who need their support? said an incredulous parent during a walk-in session.
The council is out of touch, said another parent, Anthony Lee, 43, as he watched his young son play in the giant sandbox at the heart of Pen Green. He says the cuts go against everything the government says it stands for: “If you cut funding to the centre, it doesn’t level off – it levels down.”
Adam Cooper, the chairman of Pen Green, told the Guardian that up to £800,000 was at risk, and with that dozens of jobs. “It will be catastrophic for us. It takes away 75% of our funding,” he said. “We have suffered repeated cuts over the years and we are used to cuts. But this ladder of cuts will shut us down.
Talk to parents at Pen Green and certain themes come up: it’s not just that it offers great service, but that it’s like family; how they trust him; how he does not judge; how it went the extra mile; how it “saved” them at their lowest point. Some said they wouldn’t be alive now without his support. Many cry at the memories.
It is a truly global model of integrated early childhood care – bringing together innovative, high-quality childcare, health, family support and social services under one roof to provide the best possible start. to families in a city marked by poverty, poor health and poor school performance. More than 1,000 children per year pass through its many services.
Now nearly 40, Pen Green has won awards and accolades such as School of the Year, Outstanding Ofsted and Teaching School status. It has trained thousands of social and family workers and spawned a thriving research center. Hundreds of people come from all over the world every year in the hope of learning its magic, from Auckland to Bologna, from Glasgow to Kazakhstan.
His philosophy is that by reaching out to young parents and struggling families early and providing them with consistent holistic support, he can get their lives back on track. This may be providing therapeutic services or guiding them through the maze of the special needs education system. This may mean restoring a parent’s trust or discreetly providing them with a food parcel.
“Former Pen Green kindergarten children are now principals and senior staff at Corby Primary Schools. Kindergarteners with profound disabilities have taken places at university,” said Margy Whalley, retired founder and former director of Pen Green.
There are also the day-to-day successes: parenting crises resolved, mental health emergencies dealt with, young people excluded from the child protection registry. This saves money for the NHS and social services, says Whalley. “It’s insane that the board wants to decimate something so successful and done so much good.”
North Northamptonshire argues in a council document that it is essentially correcting a historic funding inequity that has put three other state nurseries in the county at risk of closure. Cutting Pen Green’s allowance and splitting it, he claims, will save the other three.
It’s not just cuts, however. Cooper says the crisis was avoidable: when the council was created from the wreckage of bankrupt Northamptonshire County Council in 2021, he did not ask the Department for Education (DfE) to renew funding of the crèche on the established basis which reflects the additional services provided by Pen Green.
North Northamptonshire Council disagreed. He said the DfE would only issue funds in line with historic funding levels if West Northamptonshire Council (created at the same time in 2021) agreed. West Northamptonshire, he says, currently disagrees, so funding reverts to a less generous per head basis. ‘It is not a matter for North Northamptonshire council to decide,’ a spokesperson said.
Council leader Jason Smithers said: “We recognize the value and importance of early education for children in North Northamptonshire. Therefore, we strive to ensure fair, equitable and transparent funding for our four maintained crèches to ensure that children and families who access early childhood education can continue to do so in their own communities.
Angela Prodger, the co-director of Pen Green – who joined as a 17-year-old trainee nurse in 1983 – spoke of the appalling timing of the cuts, which appear to undermine almost everything the government says it believes in, from family hubs to take it to the next level, to support families through the cost of living crisis.
She recalled how Tory MP Graham Stuart, a Pen Green enthusiast, chaired a meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee in Pen Green in 2014. That day he warned against the bureaucratic destruction of “rare and particular centers of excellence that do brilliant work”. , perhaps not anticipating that it would be the Tory-led councils that would be the destroyer.
At that point, local parent Ellie Woods pounced. She had taken part in the walk-in session and wanted to correct any impression the Guardian might have had that Pen Green was like a community. “It’s not a community. It’s a family. It’s like your grandmother’s house on a Sunday. You know he is always there for you.