The Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families opened in 1983. It was set up as an integrated service for families within the local community of Corby, and was staffed by a multidisciplinary team including a teacher, social worker, early years worker and early health practitioner. The centre was financed by Northamptonshire County Council and jointly managed by the Education and Social Services Departments and local health authority. The town of Corby was established on the back of the steel industry. The centre was set up in a former comprehensive school built in the 1930s to provide an education for the children of steelworkers.
Pen Green, as a centre for children and families, was a response to the belief that access to adequate early childhood services are a need and right for all families and communities. Initially, staff had to work with a vocal group of families against the centre, who felt that there was little consultation between those setting up the centre and those expected to use it. Local families were clear that what they needed was a radically new kind of service.
Staff adopted an ‘open-door’ approach and invited parents into the centre before the concrete was even dry. They worked with local families, local politicians and local authority officers to conceptualise the vision and principles of this new provision. All of the work was underpinned with the principles of community education, and the belief that all parents had a critical role to play as their child’s primary educators. A commitment to the children and families of the local community and encouraging their active involvement in the planning of their services has remained at a core value of the Pen Green Centre today.
Parents and practitioners shared the experience of transforming a derelict comprehensive school, which many of them had attended, into a stimulating and secure environment for very young children and their families. Together, they created an organisation through which nursery education, family support, and adult community education could be combined under one roof as a comprehensive, integrated service.
Through this collaborative approach, the Pen Green community developed a ‘one-stop shop’ for families with young children including:
- a high-quality, developmentally appropriate, early childhood education with care provision for young children
- a place where children could meet, learn and grow; where staff worked hard to meet children’s affective and cognitive needs; where there was appropriate provision for children in need
- an inclusive service for children with special educational needs and disability
- a seamless provision for parents, with accessible adult education, health and social welfare services all on one site
The centre became a focus for lifelong learning in the community. Parents were engaged in an equal, active and responsible partnership with practitioners.
For over 30 years we have worked in partnership with parents to develop a responsive, progressive and effective provision that supports the whole family. We are an agent of social change in Corby, supporting families from poorest areas of the town. When we first opened, we had just six members of staff. Today, we are a team of over 120 and work with an average of over 1,800 families per annum.
We continue to develop innovative and effective ways of working with families from across the whole community. We work with families on the edge of social services intervention, families who do not speak English, families with profoundly disabled children and families whose children would enter the care system without our help.
Our funding enables Pen Green to make a major contribution to the safeguarding of young children in Corby. Families in need receive intensive family support services from experienced, well-qualified workers. Families are supported where mental health issues impact on mother and child relationships, where drug and alcohol misuse impinge on children’s growth and development, where domestic violence and family breakdown shatters young lives.
At Pen Green we have striven to ameliorate the impact of poverty on children and families. Families in Corby face higher levels of poverty than families in most of the towns in Northamptonshire. Some areas of the town are among the top 10% most socially deprived in the country. The prevalence of teenage pregnancy, smoking and early tooth decay are well above national average. Through our provision we can effectively support and protect children against the worst effects of poverty, allowing them to grow and thrive.
As a well established integrated centre Pen Green impacts on the following:
- Children’s learning and development
- Parent’s involvement in their children’s learning and development/parental advocacy
- Better supported and stronger families
- Community engagement – developing stronger citizens and a more cohesive community
- Capacity building: training, developing and sustaining the quality of the workforce in Corby.