Stay of execution for children’s building

Parents and children demonstrating outside the Ponteland Sure Start
Parents and children demonstrating outside the Ponteland Sure Start

Plans to close Ponteland Children’s Centre in the near future have been shelved.

Northumberland County Council has agreed to postpone changes to the role of the building on Thornhill Road ‘for up to a year’.

Following a public consultation, officers felt that there were some further opportunities to explore to provide services on a more commercial basis and find new ways to use the centre to support families with young children.

A recent review of children’s centres found that five out of the 20 buildings known as Sure Start in the county were being ‘under utilised’ and new ways of delivering services were required given the need for the authority to make big savings in the next two years.

Ponteland was among them, but a campaign was soon launched to save it from being closed and given an alternative use for a nearby school or organisation.

The council’s proposal was to run children’s centre services in places such as the library, St Mary’s Church Hall and the Memorial Hall and the parents, grandparents and carers who take children to the building, which opened in 2010, were concerned that these venues would not be suitable.

They said professionals such as a domestic violence adviser, occupational therapist and speech therapist would no longer have a base in Ponteland and they also suggested that the building could be used for other activities outside the current sessions and activities for children.

For example, the installation of wi-fi would enable the setting up of adult learning courses and there could be private parties and events for the community.

Maria Lunn, one of the concerned parents, said in response to the announcement: “We’re thrilled that the council isn’t going ahead with the closure and it is now looking into how it can make the building more of a community hub.”

“But we won’t be resting on our laurels as we will need to be proactive and do some research ourselves on the best ways to use the centre.”

Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council, said the need to make savings means the authority has had to look at how it can make more efficient use of its buildings.

He added: “In Ponteland, there has been a greater level of community concern about ceasing to use the Sure Start building as a designated children’s centre.

“After speaking with families, it has been agreed to defer changing the status of the building for up to 12 months to allow time to establish new ways of delivering children’s services in the community.”