Save Pen Green - Corby MP throws his weight behind campaign to save under-threat word-leading children's centre

Mr Pursglove was unequivocal in his support for the centre during a visit

By Kate Cronin
Saturday, 19th March 2022, 1:02 pm
Updated Saturday, 19th March 2022, 1:04 pm

Corby MP Tom Pursglove has given his full backing to the campaign to save Pen Green children's centre.

Mr Pursglove met groups of mums on his tour of the centre yesterday (Friday, March 18) who told him their emotional stories of what Pen Green meant to them.

The world-renowned centre is facing an existential threat after North Northants Council threatened to remove about £800,000, almost 78 per cent, of its core funding to be redirected to other, poorly-funded, maintained nurseries across North Northamptonshire

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Rushika Bhatt tells MP Tom Pursglove that Pen Green gave her her smile back

Centre leaders have described the move as 'catastrophic' for Corby and have called on NNC to lobby the government for more funding for the sector.

Mum Rushika Bhatt said she had no friends and nobody in this country to support her when he had her child. She used to phone her mum in India in tears because she felt so isolated.

She told Mr Pursglove: "I was so lonely before I came here.

"It grew my confidence and was somewhere I could get real help.

Pen Green head Angela Prodger has seen three generations of children come through world-leading Pen Green

"When I first came here it was like coming home.

"You can go to your GP but it wasn't medical help I needed, it was moral support. When I came here, I got my smile back."

Mum Sandra Kurantowicz came to the centre for breastfeeding support with her children Pola and Freddie. She said: "The groups here are really fantastic. I came here because I really wanted to breastfeed Pola and I got so much support. With Freddie it's been a lot easier but it means I can help the other women here and offer them some support in return."

Marta Matysiuk didn't leave her house for four months after she gave birth at the age of 35. She said she struggled to find first-time mums of her own age and had considered taking anti-depressants.

"I was mentally struggling," she said.

"I thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn't.

"I didn't have any friends with children and all the baby classes were expensive but then my health visitor suggested going to Pen Green. It's an amazing place. They really care here.

"It's saved all that money that would have been spent if I'd ended up taking anti-depressants."

Pen Green's funding changed in 2017 when the council's Government allocation for maintained nurseries was increased from £690,000 to nearly £2.2m to reflect money that had previously funded the centre, along with Camrose in Northampton. That uplift was intended to reflect the extra services that Pen Green offered on top of its basic childcare offer.

But NNC has decided to reallocate that cash to other nurseries in Wellingborough and Kettering who say they have historically been underfunded and their children have missed out as a result.

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'Savage and short-sighted': Corby's Pen Green Centre facing catastrophic funding...

"That funding that was intended to be spent on Corby children should be spent on children in Corby.

"The Government's longer term strategy is to create family hubs and it strikes me that that we already have that provision right here at Pen Green."

He urged ministers to look at the model of best practice at Pen Green and to apply it in other areas of the country.

A decision on the future funding of Pen Green was deferred at Thursday's (March 17) Schools Forum meeting after ward councillor Mark Pengelly urged the panel, made up of education officers, headteachers and other educational leaders in the county, to give the responsibility of making the call to the council's executive.

He said: "I've spent hours of time putting the speech together, getting the calculator out and looking at the report again and I thought to myself what's wrong here? There's something missing here.

"And what's missing is mention of children, mention of parents, of children with disabilities, with learning difficulties. There's nothing in the report whatsoever on the effect it will have on the children of Corby."

He said that no equalities impact assessment had been carried out, which is a legal duty of the local authority, and said there had been no consultation with the community or trade unions.

"Officers have let the schools forum and elected members down," he said.

He added that members of his finance scrutiny commission had not been told that Pen Green funding was under threat and warned that a judicial review on their decision was possible.

Corby Town Councillor Seth Goddard said: "When I heard the figure of 78 per cent I was utterly flabbergasted. I want to compare it to stealing candy from a baby but at least a baby can survive without the candy.

"The implications of the funding cut are going to be absolutely catastrophic for the town, for the area.

"They provide world-leading services."

The panel did not take a vote on the options before it but instead decided to put forward a written response to the executive with its favoured options for future funding.

Executive members are due to look again at the issue at their meeting next Tuesday, after council chief executive Rob Bridge goes to the Department for Education to urge them to make additional funding available.

Meanwhile, Anas Sarwar, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, will visit Pen Green this afternoon (Saturday) as part of a tour of Corby. He is in town for a Labour party fundraiser but will also visit Chatellerault Court before going to The Grampian.

And Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark, Opposition Chief Whip in the House of Lords has also given his backing to the campaign to save Pen Green. He has offered to meet campaigners at Parliament to listen to their concerns.

Corby Town Council have also supported a motion at their most recent meeting this week after listening to representatives from Pen Green. Leader of the Council, Cllr Matt Keane, read a motion which was unanimously agreed which read: "We value the unique service that Pen Green provides to the Community of Corby. This council is opposed to any proposed service cuts to their funding.

"Pen Green has been an integral and valued part of the community in Corby for 40 years and has gained national recognition for the work it has done in supporting children. We strongly oppose any cuts to services and will work to communicate the message that these services should remain."

The petition for Save Pen Green has 2,600 signatures online and many more on paper. You can sign it here.