Tree House gives families strong roots

BRINGING up children is a challenge for any parent - but there is help at hand.

James Marston

BRINGING up children is a challenge for any parent - but there is help at hand. JAMES MARSTON visits a place where parents and children can find the support they need.

FRIDAY morning at The Tree House Children's Centre is pretty busy.

Mums and dads are arriving for the baby clinic, the nursery is a hive of activity and outside in the garden youngsters are hard at play.

Manager Sandra Shears is keen to show off the facilities.

She said: “We are open every day from 8am to 6pm five days a week, 50 weeks of the year and we aim to be friendly and accessible.

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“What we're here to do is support parents with everything they need from giving advice to keeping healthy, from day care to providing activities, clubs and facilities.

“We link closely with midwives and health visitors. It's a challenge to bring up a child and we're here to help and support those parents most in need. They maybe single mums or dads, they may have experienced domestic violence or financial problems.”

Funded by the government, the centre, in Clapgate Lane, is part of the Sure Start programme and is also supported from local government and other charities and organisations.

Sandra said: “The centre was built four years ago. It used to be the Duke of Gloucester pub. It is the first children's centre and there will be about 30 all over Suffolk and more and more are opening all the time.”

With 35 staff employed by a range of agencies such as Suffolk Primary Care Trust, different charities, and Suffolk County Council children's and young people's services department, the centre aims to bring together early education, child care, health and family support under one roof.

Sandra said: “We offer a one-stop shop so we can point people in the right direction. We work and communicate with other agencies.”

Every day there are clubs and activities taking place as well as various facilities on offer including:-

- Mucky Ducks - messy play for youngsters.

- Free play

- Lunch clubs

- Toy and clothing exchange

- Groups for children with special needs

- A sensory room

- A laundry

- Baby massage

- Literacy and numeracy groups

- Trips and outings

- Training courses

- Ante and post-natal support

- Dad's clubs

Friday morning is baby clinic which runs from 10am to noon.

Health visitor Lucy Ferrell said: “We weigh the baby to check progress and talk about any health concerns parents may have. We have about 40 babies every Friday.”

Upstairs the centre has further facilities including a midwives' room, counselling room, baby massage room, offices and family room.

Downstairs the centre's nursery is run by the Ormiston Children and Families Trust.

Nursery manager Jenny Cotton said the nursery looks after about 80 youngsters each week.

She said: “This morning we have children from two to five years old enjoying a snack. They have been doing free-flow play and craft work, cutting and sticking. In our other room we have children up to two- -year olds.

“We have up to 24 children at a time and we are open from 8am to 6pm so it helps parents who work. Many parents work part-time or are studying and most youngsters are from the local area so it's in walking distance.”

The nursery has a busy room stuffed with toys and displays and there is also a large garden complete with sand pit. Fenced and secure, there is also an area of parkland that is used for bigger events.

Back downstairs and the “nappy lady” has just arrived.

Keen to promote the use of real nappies, Kim Christofi is on hand to dispense advice and offer parents a free real nappy trial.

She said: “We urge people to try non-disposable nappies to help reduce the 8million disposable nappies that go into landfill every day.

“It also saves about £800 from birth to potty. We find that once mums give it a go they are quickly converted.”

Outside Katrina Margetson and her family have arrived to check the weight of their 10-week old baby Rebecca.

Katrina, 35, said: “I come here to get Rebecca weighed and to get support and advice. I've asked advice about sleeping and breast feeding.

“We're pleased with her progress. The centre has been very helpful and supportive.”

- Have you used the Tree House Children's Centre? What do you think of the facilities and activities on offer? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Sure Start - Fast Facts

Sure Start is a government programme which aims to achieve better outcomes for children, parents and communities by:-

- increasing the availability of child care for all children

- improving health and emotional development for young children

-supporting parents as parents and in their aspirations towards employment.

-Sure Start children's centres are service hubs where children under five years old and their families can receive seamless integrated services and information.

-By 2010, every community will be served by a Sure Start Children's Centre, offering permanent universal provision across the country, ensuring that every child gets the best start in life.

-Sure Start grew out of the recognition that deprivation was blighting the lives of too many children and families in disadvantaged areas.

-Sure Start was established in 1997.