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** please note that Ciao have put Stanley in Durham, whereas I requested it be Stanley in Wakefield, I have informed them and hope they will change this to the appropriate category**
This is a review about Stanley's Children's Centre which is a place for parents and young children to go for various events and support where you will feel welcome, at ease and like you belong.
About Sure Start
There are over 3,000 Sure Start Children's Centres around the UK. They provide a place for all of the services you could need all in one place. They aim to support families and give advice even before your baby is born up until it begins school. The aim was for every community to have a centre to ensure that all children have the best possible start in life. Services which they aim to provide include:
Inegrated education and childcare from an early age.
Child and family health services.
Helping parents into work.
This is to try to help with the government's plan that every child should have the ability to fullfill their potential and the aim of children's centres if to improve outcomes for all children.
About Stanley Children's Sure Start Centre
Stanley's Children's centre opened up in July 2008 and is open Monday-Friday. The building is completely new and purpose built making it an ideal place for parents to bring their children. It has various classes, drop ins and support groups as well as access to health visitors, job centre workers and many groups that help to give you the time and ability to play with your children without being distracted by the goings on at home.
The location of Stanley Children's Centre is within the grounds of Stanley St Peter's school but this doesn't mean you have to go through the school to access it, it has it's own entrance and car park. It is situated on Long Causeway in Stanley which is about 4 miles from Wakefield city centre. There is a bus route which runs from Stanley to Leeds and Wakefield which is very regular and the bus stops are nearby to the centre so it's easily accessible on public transport. Parking-wise the car park is only small and there are two disabled spaces but there is also some parking on the street outside or if there's an event on and it's particularly busy if you chose to park in the library carpark then it's only a very short walk beside the school and up to the children's centre so really it's very easy to access both by car and public transport.
The buiding is a brand new one level building which was opened in summer 2008. This makes it a very light and airy building which is very welcoming. What I've noticed about other baby groups that I have been to they are usually held in old halls and community centres which tend to be quite old and so not quite as 'fresh' as this. Because this is all brand new I have always felt comfortable about letting Baby Hope lie on the floor or shuffle around without worrying about dirty carpets and things. The floors are all laminated which I think makes it much cleaner!
The building is well designed with practicality in mind as far as I can see (Perhaps if I worked there I could probably find a flaw or two!) but from a parents' perspective it is very practically laid out. The entrance is automatic so you don't need to struggle with heavy doors and a pushchair and then the reception area is set out well. There is a small library and toy library with a little seat and table and chairs for little people on one side. This is always very well stocked and kept clean. There is also accesible changing, parent toilets and two rooms which are for the health visitors and midwives. There are several comfortable chairs and a table with magazines for if you are waiting. The walls are always decorated with pictures of the children engaging in activities or practical advice about healthy eating or reading books with children. There is a flat screen television too which often displays photographs of the events throughout the year or educational television. There are many leaflets around about events and practical parenting issues. The reception itself is glass so you can see the receptionist and the staff which is quite nice instead of them being hidden away in a room, it makes it a much more friendly atmosphere.
The rooms inside the actual centre are where all the fun takes place! There are two rooms which can both be split so they can make four rooms. One room is carpeted, the other laminate. In the carpeted room is often the 'quiet' room or 'sensory' room. This has lots of cushions, bean bags and soothing interactive lights which change colour and project onto the walls. The other room is much larger and has laminate floor. There are windows all around which make it very bright. This is the main room where the groups take place. Leading off this room is another baby change area as well as the patio doors. These doors lead out into the garden which has a variety of toys such as bikes and sandpit as well as others.
Also leading off the main room is a kitchen. Within this kitchen is a washing machine and tumble dryer and food and drink making facilities with a counter so you or the staff can easily see what is happening and pass food/drinks through without having to keep opening doors.
The building is well thought out as there are no steps or fixed pieces of furniture, instead everything can
Pictures of Sure Start Stanley Children's Centre, Durham
Sure Start Stanley Children's Centre, Durham
be moved around so can accommodate all kinds of activities and events. The rooms are always kept very clean and tidy despite the number of children (and parents!) who pass through every day. I like how it's new and
The staff at this centre are really what make this place a fantastic place to go to with your children. From the smiling face that greets you behind reception to the support staff who work more behind the scenes these are the people who really make this place something. Everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. They are the kind of people who remember your name, what your baby gets up to and makes you feel as though you are a valued member of the centre.
There are family support workers, health visitors, midwives, play workers, admin staff and managers who all work here and all have their picture and their name as well as job title by reception so you recognise who everyone is and what their role is.
They have a very informal approach but still remain professional which I think is really important in this kind of field. They will get down on the floor and play with your children during the stay and play sessions but they will also keep the sessions running smoothly and ensure that people are integrated without making it look like they're really trying.
There are regular events that occur at this children's centre. On the gates on the way in is the general calendar and you can pick up printed off versions of this or have one sent to you every time there is a change. The events include:
Stay and play
First aid classes
Health drop in
breast feeding support
And several others. Some do vary depending upon the time of year or if it's school holidays. Some events have to be booked onto- such as first aid classes(Which is for parents, a creche is provided) or baby massage but the majority are drop-ins so you can just go as and when you please.
I am not going to evaluate every single event that this children's centre offers else I will be here all day but I will chose a few to tell you about.
Baby group runs on a Tuesday and up until last year included a range of abilities from birth to around 2 years. Last year they split this up into two ages with babies and then 'bigger babies' being in the later group. This made it a little bit more intimate with numbers being reduced but also a bit more laid back with parents of tiny babies not having to worry about babies who have just learnt to toddle wobbling around the room and falling down onto their tiny babies.
At baby group it lasts around an hour and a half and you can turn up at any point in this which is a good thing as I'm sure you know if you have had a baby you will know how difficult it is to get anywhere for a set time! The rooms are all available and often the outside space is too. The sensory room has the lights all on and some toys set out which is nice to go to as a more relaxed atmosphere and this tends to be where people take their children to feed or have a nap. The main room is always set out with various themed toys with different areas being colour coded or coded by texture or sound. There is often an activity you can do too- when I first attended this group we began a book where we filled in Hope's basic details and then every week the activity would go into her book. We have done finger/hand prints, drawing around her, making stars, making hats, filling out information like her favourite songs and foods and things. This has created a lovely little keepsake which I'm sure will bring back many fond memories.
Whilst this group is on the play staff all join in and keep it running smoothly. If it's sunny and you're outside with the babies then they provide you with sun hats which is great as I'm always forgetting to be prepared for the sun! The little areas set out throughout the room give a chance for parents to be able to talk whilst their children explore the toys. Because they're small areas it makes it a bit easier to talk to people, it's not as daunting as suddenly approaching a huge group! The staff also make it easy to get talking especially if you're new they're good at introducing you to people and involving you in conversations.
At the end of the group there is 'snack time' which involves a glass of juice for parents, some water/milk for babies and some fruit finger foods followed by a few songs before saying goodbye. Whenever I leave this group I feel like I'm really glad that I went, that it's been good to get out of the house and explore other toys and materials with Hope and also have some adult conversation. It really is a nice atmosphere that I just haven't found at any other baby group I've attended.
Baby massage is another event which I really enjoyed here. This event you have to book on to and it lasts for around 6 weeks (trying to think back to when Hope was tiny is difficult!) It's for younger babies and aims to give parents the time to have some very close bonding with their babies in a relaxed atmosphere learning some skills which will help to relax and calm your baby.
This is held in one of the large rooms and the atmosphere is very different to the baby group which is all bright and full of life- this one is very calm and relaxing. The lights are turned down, the sensory lights are on, there are feathers and pillows laid out. Each week the staff member running the class talks you through different massage techniques with your baby which you can then take away and do from home. This is done in a very laid back atmosphere. I was rather nervous about attending as Hope was only eight weeks old when we first went and I had to breast feed her pretty much the whole time she was awake as she was so tiny. I was concerned about going to a class where we had to follow set things as I didn't think I would be able to due to Hope's constant need to feed. What was great about this was that it didn't matter- if Hope wanted to feed then I could feed her and watch the others learning the moves and not feel as though I was doing something wrong. I soon realised that other parents were having the same thoughts as me- many of them were having to get up and walk around to soothe babies or go to change them during the class and it didn't matter. In fact, I don't think I actually did any massage with Hope for the first three weeks as she either slept or fed but it didn't matter, it was just nice to be in a calm atmosphere, with other people and learning some nice massage techniques!
The massage was really very nice and straight forward. I did take a lot of it home with me and would use it if Hope was unsettled in the evenings. Some of the tips were also good for helping with colic or teething pain too.
It really helped me learn to get out in those early weeks and that it was a very positive thing to be having some quiet time with Hope which i just couldn't get at home as there was always something I should be doing or I felt guilty for relaxing. Here, at baby massage, I could spend time with her without feeling rushed. It really was a lovely class and I really recommend it if you haven't been to something like this before.
Also at this children's centre are facilities which you can use which aren't big groups and you can just drop in at any time to use them. This includes the various leaflets and job notice board in the reception area and also the toy library. This library is in the entrance so you don't have to go through into the main rooms to access it. it consists of two book shelves full of books from basic board books for tiny babies right up to adult books on parenting and first aid. As well as books there are toys which you can borrow. These are in bags with a various theme and are all educational for example a bag learning about vegetables and animals included various games and activities from colouring in a picture to counting how many carrots there were. These are aimed at slightly older children- Hope is 18 months and can just about enjoy them now. You can take a book out/toy bag out free of charge and if you take them back late there are no penalties! This is great because Hope is always hiding her books in places so I end up forgetting we have any out! The books are also in much better condition than those at our local library which are all battered and tatty and i don't like Hope really even touching which defeats the object really!
There are health staff available here on certain days which provide you with your services you need such as advice, weighing and the mile-stone checks which babies need. It means that you don't have to go and sit in a doctors waiting room for this which I think is a much better idea as it stops you having to sit amongst ill people with your baby and also frees up the doctors' surgeries themselves. These are usually by appointment so it's best to ring the children's centre or your health worker to arrange when to see them.
Breast feeding support is a group which runs on a Friday afternoon and is very laid back. Before I attended this I imagined that it would be a lot of 'know all' women sitting around, breasts out, babies feeding and all unable to talk about anything other than how terrible bottle feeding is and isn't breast wonderful! Actually though I got a very different experience from this group. It is a breast feeding support group but it felt more like a smaller version of the baby group. The room used is just one of the bigger rooms and it's set out with various toys. There are some more chairs around for parents and there is also fruit and juice available throughout.
The group is more of a social thing than anything and you don't have to still be breast feeding to go and you won't be judged at all by anything- although I breast fed Hope until she was 14 months i did introduce the bottle one feed a day when she was 3 weeks old and I always thought that this was a bit tabboo but since attending this group I've realised it's all very different for everyone and it doesn't matter what you do, you do what works best for you. At this breast feeding group they have events too such as a trip to the park or someone from an outside class come in to do a demonstration. You can attend this before your baby is here so you can learn about breast feeding which again I think is really useful. It's good to know that you can get support from people who are more like friends to help you with this important part of your baby's life.
Throughout the year there are special events which are held. This includes things such as picnics in the summer, parties at Christmas and the anniversary of when the centre opened, a photographer and others. During the summer the usual activities that run here are altered to accommodate for the school holidays and instead other classes run. These classes may be things you have to book onto like Jo Jingles where an outside company come in and run a class which is laidback, enjoyable and full of fun. They try to accommodate children of all needs so will have events for newborns as well as for older children.
At Christmas they had a party which involved a mini buffet too with jam sandwiches, slices of fruit and fairy cakes which was really nice! Father Christmas made an appearance with baby Hope getting to meet him for the first time (an experience she wasn't too happy about!) There was songs and activities and it was a great atmosphere with it being the last event before the Christmas break.
A professional photographer comes to the centre about once every 6 months where she will take a photo of your baby and then a few weeks later return with a pack which contains several different sizes of photo and frames and only costs a quarter of what you would expect to pay in a store. I really have taken great advantage of this and the pictures are lovely! You don't need to book but you may be waiting a while as there is often a queue!
There is a lot more that I could talk about in relation to this children's centre but I don't want it to end up being an even bigger essay than it already is. I just wanted to give you a feel of what this place offers. Before having Hope I knew little about babies and had no friends or family near by. I didn' have friends with children and so when she arrived I immediatelt felt isolated. I had been very ill during pregnancy and hadn't left the house in 7 months due to the severity of the illness so suddenly becoming a mother and having to recover from the illness and get back out meeting people was impossible. I really struggled at first, Hope was an early baby and I would feed her all day long which meant I didn't feel like I could ever go anywhere. I had to take her once a week to get weighed at the children's centre and it was during one of these weigh-ins that I signed up to baby massage.
Because I was signed up to a specific class which i knew was in demand I knew i had to go so every Wednesday I would really struggle to get Hope and I ready in time but I would always make sure we got there and I always felt glad that I did. I felt very welcome and at ease here, I learnt that i could feed Hope around other people without feeling embarrassed or unsure about it and I didn' have to panic if Hope cried whilst we were around other people. After every class I felt like I'd achieved something, not just learning some new massage techniques but actually managing to get out of the house and interact with people.
Once baby massage was over I took advantage of the baby group and made some friends. I would see the same people at baby group walking with their babies or going to the library and things so very soon it was easy to talk to them and get to know them and their babies. The other activities suddenly became part of my calendar too and there was a time that I was at the children's centre every day for a while with various activities and groups on!
I think without the children's centre I would definitely have suffered from post natal depression and I would have had a lot of difficulties. Because it was so accessible and so welcoming I felt encouraged to go and it helped me to meet people, get out and have some important bonding time with Hope. There are times when having a newborn you can feel completely overwhelmed and it can just be small things like going to a baby group that can really help to keep you smiling.
I think that Hope has benefitted from attending this centre in many ways too. She has come across a great variety of toys and activities. She has learnt a lot which has helped to develop her senses and interact with things. A v ery important skill that I think she has learnt is socialising. Socialising is very important in our culture and i think from a very young age Hope has been exposed to this. She has seen how adults interact with each other, how other children and babies behave and from this has become part of a little community. She has been able to learn to share and to respect other peoples' toys and how to fit into little routines- such as washing hands before snack time and sitting down to eat. All of these things I think are very important and she would have missed out on if it was just her and I at home bumbling through our days.
It also made me feel relaxed towards Hope. She is a late developer- she only learnt to roll over last week at 18 months old, she can't crawl, she's only just started bum shuffling in the last few months, she didn't get any teeth until she was 1...which before having a baby I would have thought wasn't normal and I'd have panicked but the staff here and other parents have reassured me that every baby does it in their own time and although Hope may not be able to crawl around she has very good abilities with other things such as her concentration and her fine motor skills. This sort of information I wouldn't have picked up, I would have just searched the internet and found something that sounded awful and assumed Hope wasn't 'normal'!
Now that Hope is 18 months old I don't get to go to the children's centre very much, not because there isn't anything her age for us to do but because now i'm back at work it is very difficult to find the time. It is really quite emotional not being able to either as this place had such an impact on her early development.
A few months ago there was lots of talk in the news about these centres possibly closing down with the new government and the thought of that really made me want to write this review. I know that without this place I would have costed the government more by needing support elsewhere- the NHS perhaps for PND and anxiety. I think you can never underestimate how important it is for parents to have support, to feel welcome and to have time to play with their children in an atmosphere outside of the home with other local parents.
I hope that the government will continue to fund these children's centres and enable them to stay open as in a whole i think they do create the building blocks for a better society. Learning to be sociable, polite, explore new things from an early age can only be a positive thing which the children of the next generation can take forward.
If you want to know more about your local children's centre then visit the website below for more information. http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/earlyyears/surestart/aboutsurestart/aboutsurestart/