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‘They got me back on my feet’ - father who lost partner on the value of children’s centres amid closure consultation

PUBLISHED: 08:09 04 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:09 04 October 2018

Richard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Richard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

A Norwich father has said “lifeline” support from his local children’s centre got him back on his feet after his partner died, as he urged people to speak out about proposals to shut them.

Richard Steer first visited the East City and Framingham Earl Area centre, on Duckett Close, last September, after his partner Ellen was hospitalised with post-natal depression.

The 43-year-old said the team found him emergency childcare for daughter Lily, then four months old, and even helped subsidise the cost, as he fought to hold down a full-time job. In April, Ellen died.

Mr Steer has now written a blog post on the impact the centres had on his family, in response to a Norfolk County Council consultation which has proposed closing 46 of 53 centres in the county, instead moving services into other community buildings or online.

In the post, he said: “Not only was I dealing with the grief and shock of losing Ellen, but also having to make the rapid adjustment to the fact that I was now a single parent.

Richard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRichard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“Once again, the children’s centre staff were fantastic throughout this really difficult time. They advised me on what benefits and help I could be entitled to, again were able to source some financial help with the costs of childcare, gave me information on activities for parents and children at the centre and elsewhere, and – above all – a lot of moral, practical and emotional support when I needed it most.

“A family support worker from the children’s centre visited me at home on a regular basis, giving me the confidence that I could get through this awful time and successfully make the transition to single parenthood.”

Today, he and 16-month-old Lily regularly spend time at the centre’s outdoor play session, giving Lily experiences he said she was unable to have at home.

Richard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRichard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

MORE: Proposals would see 46 of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres close

Mr Steer, who described the centres in his blog as a “lifeline in a time of crisis”, said the key benefit was having access to a range of support in one place.

“A lot of the support was initially practical,” he said, “but after Ellen died and I had a support worker, it became about moral and emotional support.

Richard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRichard Steer with his 16 month old daughter Lily Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“The key thing, though, was that it was all there – I could have a chat about making sure I was applying for tax credits and child benefits, but also have someone talk to me, tell me I was doing okay, doing well.”

He said the social side of the centre, for both him and Lily, had also been a help, and said moving services online could risk losing that element.

“Parenting for anybody can be stressful, you don’t know the questions you need to be asking,” he said. “It’s about that face to face relationship, where you can learn things and make sure you are asking the right questions.

“I don’t know how I would have got through the last year without that support. The main thing for me is that it’s accessible – it’s all in one place. It’s 10 minutes down the road – and I don’t drive so that’s really important.”

He said the children’s centres had “helped me back on my feet”.

MORE: Bids to suspend consultation over closure of Norfolk’s children’s centres

“We’ve gone from that intensive phase where they were there all the time to a new phase, but I know that if at any point I’m struggling they are there, or for questions on parenting when Lily gets older.”

He said it was actually Ellen who had spoken about how important children’s centres were in the past, and said on his blog she would be “horrified” to see the “ill-considered” plans.

“There’s a whole range of things you can tap into in that one place,” he said. “When they say that 23,000 families use them, that’s 23,000 families, stories and circumstances walking through those doors, but it’s the fact that they are set up to help every one of those.

“That’s invaluable.”

He encouraged people to take part in the county council consultation on the proposals, which runs until November 12.

The council has said that by spending money on frontline services, rather than the buildings they are in, they can provide “more focused one-to-one and group support”.

For more information, click here.

To take part in the consultation, click here.

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