Cuts risk­ing fu­ture of ‘out­stand­ing’ cen­tre

Middleton Guardian - - WILDLIFE - BY NICK STATHAM

THEY are at the heart of our neigh­bour­hoods, pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing from cri­sis sup­port and vo­ca­tional train­ing to karate classes and slim­ming groups.

But for 14 com­mu­nity cen­tres across Rochdale, the fu­ture is un­cer­tain.

Faced with cuts to lo­cal gov­ern­ment fund­ing, the town hall is con­sid­er­ing pro­pos­als to halve their grants next year and with­draw them al­to­gether from 2021.

For users of the Burn­side Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, in Lan­g­ley, Mid­dle­ton, the po­ten­tial loss of the fa­cil­ity - or a scal­ing back of what it can of­fer - would have a huge im­pact.

It has sup­ported fam­i­lies for gen­er­a­tions. They rely on it. But staff aren’t pre­par­ing to raise the white flag any time soon.

“We take quite a lot of chil­dren on from the Lan­g­ley area, it’s quite a de­prived area and quite a lot of the par­ents used to come to youth club as chil­dren them­selves,” says man­ager Lisa Laryea.

“I just love it, that’s why I’ve been here so long.”

Burn­side has 24 young­sters on its books, and Of­sted rates it as an ‘out­stand­ing’ provider of early-years ser­vices.

The pre-school fol­lows the Early Years Ed­u­ca­tional Frame­work, but ac­tiv­i­ties are also based around sug­ges­tions from par­ents and chil­dren, and Lisa and her team do what they can to cater to their in­ter­ests.

“Ev­ery­thing is for the chil­dren,” she says.

“That’s why we try to keep the fees as low as pos­si­ble. Our fees are the low­est in Rochdale, be­cause it’s a de­prived area, even though it’s an out­stand­ing ser­vice.”

One par­ent, Martina Cog­gins, from Alkring­ton, has four-year old Mary and two-year-old Cait en­rolled at Burn­side.

She said: “It’s just out­stand­ing, I’m a dance teacher and go into schools and nurs­eries and the girls here are just amaz­ing.

“The amount of work they do with the chil­dren - from wood­work to out­door ac­tiv­i­ties - you just don’t find in many nurs­eries, they fit so much in.”

Ev­ery penny the preschool re­ceives goes straight back into fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment, Lisa adds.

“We just love them. We call it a Burn­side lit­tle fam­ily, when they leave in July, we get re­ally emotional. That shows how much we all care.”

The un­cer­tainty loom­ing over Burn­side comes as the fa­cil­ity is ap­proach­ing its 50th an­niver­sary.

The po­ten­tial loss of its £26k grant leaves a ques­tion mark hang­ing over its abil­ity to con­tinue pro­vid­ing the same level of sup­port it now does.

Staff are main­tain­ing a level of op­ti­mism, though, spear­headed by man­ager Kerry Ed­wards.

She says: “It’s just the na­ture of the sec­tor, it’s a sec­tor that’s very re­liant on ex­ter­nal fund­ing.”

Also keep­ing a pos­i­tive out­look on life is the next vis­i­tor - Joan Roberts - who is on the other end of the age spec­trum from the early years class.

The pen­sioner comes to Holy Com­mu­nion, held by All Saints and Mar­tyrs CE Church, at the cen­tre ev­ery Fri­day.

She said: “I only came to see what it was like a while back and it’s helped me quite a lot (since be­com­ing a wi­dow 17 years ago). I came for the com­pany and they have been won­der­ful.

“The peo­ple are all great. It’s a nice warm at­mos­phere. I feel like I can talk to them about any­thing.”

Rev Sue Mor­gan - who pro­vides a ser­vice that is ‘a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing church than be­ing in a build­ing on a Sun­day morn­ing’ - says: “The whole pur­pose of the cen­tre is to build con­fi­dence in peo­ple who have not had that con­fi­dence be­fore, a lot of peo­ple have gone on to be­ing vol­un­teers.”

It is cru­cial, she adds, that the cen­tre - which sees up to 300 peo­ple per week through its doors - re­mains re­spon­sive to the ‘ever-chang­ing needs’ of the com­mu­nity.

These can range from help with the ben­e­fits sys­tem, is­suing food-bank vouch­ers and giv­ing as­sis­tance to refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, through to vo­ca­tional cour­ses, coun­selling and dance classes.

For Burn­side’s staff, it will re­main busi­ness as usual un­til they are in­formed oth­er­wise.

“We are try­ing to be proac­tive and pos­i­tive and move for­ward,” says Kerry.

“It’s very much in our hands, we have a strong com­mu­nity staff and ethos and a strong vi­sion for the fu­ture, so we want to fo­cus on that.

Rev Philip Miller, the chair­man of the cen­tre, says it is in­evitable that fa­cil­i­ties like Burn­side are ‘go­ing to suf­fer’ as a re­sult of lo­cal gov­ern­ment cuts.

He says: “We are threat­ened, of course. Why is it that ar­eas that need this kind of sup­port are those that suf­fer most?

“Mo­rally, this is where the money should be com­ing to - an area that needs it and ben­e­fits from it.”

Rev Mor­gan says: “We are set in an es­tate with high in­dices of social de­pri­va­tion. The coun­cil said it would slash our core fund­ing by 50 per cent from April - that’s a big chal­lenge for us given the qual­ity, range and con­sis­tency of what we of­fer.

The cuts to com­mu­nity cen­tre fund­ing were ap­proved by Rochdale coun­cil cab­i­net mem­bers in Oc­to­ber, and are ex­pected to be rub­ber­stamped at next month’s full coun­cil meet­ing.

Mem­bers of the Ev­ery­one Mat­ters group at Burn­side Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, Mid­dle­ton

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