A festive post in praise of Sure Starts

It was E’s Christmas party at playgroup this week. We go to a local Sure Start (actually, we can go to about three local Sure Starts which is nice) and they have a baby group, for children up to a year old. It was filthy weather but I was glad to get out of the house and a small group of us sat and ate festive treats (we each brought something), listened to cheesy music, played pass the parcel and made Christmas cracker cards.

Santa turned up halfway through. In through the door (there’s no chimney) and said, “Ho ho ho! My husband is very busy at this time of year so I’ve taken on some of his duties instead.” OK, we were fine to have a Mrs Santa, but she was still wearing the full beard.

It didn’t matter really. The Sure Start is one of my highlights of the week which sounds a little sad but it’s very friendly and they put a lot of effort into the session. Each week we make something for the babies’ scrapbook, different themed activities – Road Safety Week, Divali, Autumn, Halloween and so on – and there are a range of toys. We also sing and do a very small bit of baby signing. I was won over by the very small act – the girl who runs it remembered E’s name and the spelling from the beginning – and now we go every week. I shall miss it when I have to go back to work. The trick will be trying to get S (if he’s free) to take E instead. It’s good for her socialisation but he’ll be terrified at being the only man in there.

It’s no secret that Sure Starts have had their funding cut under the current government. Despite the constant refrain of less money in the public coffers this seems to be nothing more than a vindictive act. I am always reminded of the Peter Ustinov quote about how he’d never seen collections in the street for guns and warships “because these have been taken care of by governments. But I have seen many collections for children.”

E wasn’t scared of Santa and fortunately didn’t grab the beard and tug like she does with her father. She received a present (I think it’s a board book) and we took photos by the tree. It was all very much in the spirit of Christmas, everyone was very jolly. Some of the parents had dressed the babies up in festive costume – something that’s never appealed to me but hey.

I wanted to end the year’s blogging on a high and sing the praises of something that helps so many people on a tight budget. So hurrah for Sure Start, hurrah for everyone who work or volunteers at mine and help to make it so nice and hurrah for Christmas pot luck parties. We must make sure such a positive force remains a part of our society.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blogs this year and to all of you who read, comment and like the posts, I wish the very best of the season. Have a very Merry Christmas and here’s to more parenting bewilderment and joy in 2013.

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4 Responses to A festive post in praise of Sure Starts

  1. Sean says:

    I agree with your praise of SureStarts – and it’s such a shame that so many are struggling to exist as we move into 2013. Similarly, I’ve seen in 2012 some of the excellent work that many Home-Starts do in enabling families who don’t have your confidence to get out and meet to take some small steps towards doing sociable things…… again, such a shame that across the Country they are being hit so hard by Local Government cuts….

  2. John Adams says:

    I’ve never been to a Sure Start myself but you’ve pretty much confirmed what I thought – they help break down the isloation of being a parent.

    Bearing in mind my own stance, I have of course noted the comment you made about your other half potentially being the only dad to visit you centre! Out of interest, do you think more could be done to make them appeal to fathers? I’d be interested to know.

    • basfordianthoughts says:

      John – I should start by pointing out that my husband is quite shy and doesn’t like mixing with strangers at the best of times. However, you raise an interesting point. One of the local Sure Starts does run a Dads and babies group once a week. I’m not a big fan of running gender-separate things but in some cases this can be a confidence thing. Perhaps if you’re used to getting out to that, which some men might feel more comfortable with, then the next step is to go to a general playgroup and mix with all other parents?
      We have had a dad come to the group and he accompanied his wife and small baby and then sat in the corner and watched. The Sure Start staff did make sure he had everything he needed, kept talking to him, pointing out what we do in the groups and so on but he wouldn’t be drawn in.
      I think there are a lot of contributory factors – including the most obvious one, that paternity leave has not been as generous as maternity leave, so that the dads are often at work while these groups go on. But for the dads who aren’t, I wonder how well informed they are kept? I didn’t know about the group until my health visitor told me about it and made an effort to encourage me to come. I don’t know anything about the attitudes of HVs to stay at home dads so you might be better placed to tell me about that. The group itself does state that it is for Mums and Dads on their flyer and the other literature around the Sure Start centre does include both parents. But I think it’s probably a wider cultural issue – that men still need to be actively sought out and welcomed to these places that have traditionally been the preserve of women. It may also help having more male play workers (like primary school teachers, it’s a women-centric profession at the moment). Sure Starts are such a good resource that it would be a shame if the word of them isn’t spread to as many people as possible.

      I’m encouraged by the fact that all three commenters on this post are men, though! Let’s start here and move on out!

  3. John says:

    I hope your partner has the chance, and takes it, to attend with your daughter. When ours were that age, I was sometimes out of work and went to many “Mother & Toddler”, Music & Movement and similar – this was before Sure Start. Yes, got the odd, mild, remark but it was always a good experience, for me and my child, and I think the others enjoyed it as well. Diversity in the adults is good, and helps to reduce sexism, I think/hope. And, keep it secret, it is lovely and fun to be with the children at this age.

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