Rugby's rapid growth means more must be done to boost outreach work of children and family centres - councillors say

The comments were made at a meeting earlier this week
Shire Hall in Warwick - the headquarters of the county council.Shire Hall in Warwick - the headquarters of the county council.
Shire Hall in Warwick - the headquarters of the county council.

More needs to be done to boost the outreach work of Warwickshire County Council’s children and family centres service particularly in areas like Rugby – where major house building is taking place.

That was the message delivered to members of the children and young people overview and scrutiny committee when they met this week April 11 to hear an update as part of on-going performance monitoring of the service.

Council officer Jackie Kerby explained: “This is particularly key when we consider the house building activity for example in the Rugby district where the current location of our core centres are on the other side of the district to where all the house building is going on.

“We need to look at how we can utilise community venues more effectively to try and deliver services to families where they can access it locally.

“When the service was redesigned in 2019 it was to move away from having a core centre approach where families had to go to the centres to receive the services.

“If it is identified that there is a community need in a particular locality it would be for the community providers to see if there were venues such as a church hall or community hall where they could deliver services to families.”

Council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Con, Stour and the Vale) said another challenge facing the council was to gauge what damage the pandemic had done to those community-based outreach settings, many of which were forced to close during the various lockdowns.

Other issues raised by councillors were specific to their own parts of the county.

Cllr Justin Kerridge (Con, Studley) said: “I don’t think we had outreach before the pandemic to much of an extent in Studley - and I am sure it is the same across the county.”

And Cllr Jill Simpson-Vince (Con, Brownsover and Coton Park) highlighted problems she had faced when her daughter was very young.

She said: “I used our local children’s centre when she was a toddler and I lived on a new estate in Rugby. I used it happily for a few months and was then told that me and the people I had met and become friends with were the wrong demographic and we were sent away effectively.

“I am worried that while we might say that we want to encourage all the mums and dads on the new estates to get involved - on the ground that wasn’t what I experienced so it’s making sure the message gets through.”

In 2017 Warwickshire County Council voted to shut 14 children and family centres across the county – with campaigners at the time warning this would have serious effects on some of Warwickshire’s most vulnerable families.

At the time, Cllr Alan Webb proposed using the council’s reserves to keep the centres open for longer, but council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe said this would that would amount to 'kicking the can down the road' – Cllr Peter Butlin further argued: ‘You do not set budgets by using money in reserves.’

The plan, intended to save the council £1.1m, was finally implemented fully in 2019.