Cuts risking future of ‘outstanding’ centre
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