SOUTHEND has been given £40million of lottery cash to help improve the lives of 13,000 vulnerable children in its six most deprived wards.
The Big Lottery Fund money will go to a partnership led by the Pre-school Learning Alliance to spend in Kursaal, Milton, Shoeburyness, Victoria, West Shoebury and Westborough wards.
The ten-year Our Children, Our Community, Our Future project will aim to see off the problems faced by deprived youngsters before they arise, rather than dealing with their consequences in later life.
The alliance plans to create 41 full-time jobs, hiring support workers, practitioners and nutrition and communication experts to give youngsters a better start in life.
The number of health visitors and midwives will be increased, and breastfeeding support workers will be hired as part of an overhaul of maternity care.
One of the six wards – which has yet to be decided – will get a new family GP practice.
Partnership chief executive Neil Leitch said: “Our Children, Our Community, Our Future will transform the lives of local children and families, and deliver lasting change for the wider Southend community.”
The partnership and Southend Council have already worked out what they will do in the first 18 months.
The impact of the initial phase will then be assessed before the programme for the remaining ten years is agreed.
Anne Jones, councillor responsible for children and learning, is a mother of three children who needed early-years help and used to help run a nursery in Dagenham.
She said: “We want this to build on the work we are already doing in our children’s centres and schools.
“This is not just about the children in the six wards. We will take knowledge learned from this and transfer it across the town.
“The help my son got was great. He’s just turned 18 and you’d never know he needed help to be more vocal.”
"The whole town will gain"
THE lottery funding will include more antenatal and post-natal classes, peer support groups and workshops to help children who are about to start school.
Tanis Oliver and her two youngsters, Tyler, three, and Melody, one, will benefit.
Council worker Mrs Oliver, 38, of Kent Avenue, Leigh, has returned from maternity leave to be seconded to the team which applied for the grant.
He job was to gather information from fellow parents – including the message they wanted more support before and after their children were born.
She said: “My children – in fact, all Southend children – will benefit from this money.
“Pregnancy, birth and early-years development are so important and make such a big impact on the start of family life. If you make it as good as possible, with more health visits and peer support groups, you are starting from a fantastic place.
“Workshops to improve school readiness can only be a good thing as well, Tyler will benefit from those, as will Melody in a couple of years.
“As kids grow up, they will be the ones running things and will be informed by their experiences in early years, so getting the best start is important.”
Dads will get more involved
THE Pre-school Learning Alliance, worked with Southend Council and almost 100 local groups to put together the funding bid.
Elaine Hammans, Southend Council’s early years manager, spent 18 months working on the application and said she could not have done it without everyone’s help.
She said: “It has been absolutely the most fantastic journey.
“Our bid has come from parents and the community. They have been involved from day one.”
She worked closely with Dawn Harvey, the partnership’s senior development officer.
Ms Harvey said: “We have about 40 people in our antenatal classes at the moment.
“We want to put on more classes, so there are fewer people in each and also make them more accessible to both parents, not just the mothers.
When people talk about birth, they just talk about the mum, but we want this money to help give dads more opportunity to get involved, too.”
Council chief executive, Rob Tinlin, said the grant was a vote of confidence in the town.
He added: “It will mean that we can make a real sea-change for young people and develop new opportunities for children, their families and communities.”