Council funding cuts threaten Edinburgh family centre

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An Edinburgh support centre that works with some of the city's most vulnerable families is cutting services after losing council funding

29th November 2016 by Jolene Campbell 0 Comments

A charity supporting hundreds of families in Edinburgh has cut services amid a growing funding crisis prompting fears it could be facing closure.

Dr Bell’s Family centre in Leith says cuts to services following a major funding cut will impact vulnerable families – and its staff warned it might be forced to close its doors next year.

The centre is Edinburgh’s only one-stop-shop for families, providing counselling, one-to-one family support and a crèche with places for children who have extra support needs. Other services include cookery classes and a summer programme.

“It was such a difficult decision to notify the team they will be made redundant. Everyone is just devastated - Fiona Clark, centre manager

Staff say the specialist centre faces an uncertain future as a result of growing financial pressure and it has now issued a plea for more support to save vital services.

All ten staff including two centre managers, group workers and café workers were served redundancy notices in the last week and plans have been drawn up that will see the crèche reduced to five sessions a week starting in January.

Managers said tough decisions had to be made after reaching crisis point following a significant cut in council funding and a continued struggle to access funding available to bigger, national charities.

With a projected short-term funding gap of £40,000 the valued community asset is at risk and the centre could close its doors by April next year.

Centre manager Fiona Clark said: “It was such a difficult decision to notify the team they will be made redundant. Everyone is just devastated.

"The council grant used to cover 40% of our costs but under a new agreement it’s only about 18%."

Last year outreach crèche services were cut and sessional workers reduced after City of Edinburgh Council funding was reduced in April 2015 by over half, from £95,000 a year to £47,000 annually for three years.

Staff say they followed council advice and submitted a single application for funding despite previous funding coming from two separate grants – but they were only awarded money from one pot resulting in a severe cut.

They fear the cuts will remove a vital safety net for local children and families in need.

Dr Bell's - what it's all about

Studies have shown the early-years services provided by Dr Bells works by early intervention; services help prevent many parents and children going onto need more expensive interventions by social work, education and police agencies later on.

Over 250 children used the crèche in 2016, accessing over 800 crèche sessions free of charge while parents attended counselling appointments, parenting groups, trauma counselling and volunteering opportunities.

127 children who speak English as a  second language were supported with their language development.

Through one-to-one family support the centre has worked with more than 70 single, unemployed mothers and over 50 went into training, employment or volunteering. 

Clark added: “Families most in need and facing the most extreme disadvantage will be prioritised under the reduced service from January but the cuts will still impact hundreds of parents and children who need our support.”

“Over 200 children use our crèche. Services like family support and counselling have a massive impact. We want to be able to open full time to help more local families – not to cut services even more.”

Local MSP Ben Macpherson has backed calls for more support.

Macpherson said: “Dr Bell’s has supported thousands of local children and has provided invaluable support for so many families at difficult times in their lives. We need to work with NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government to find a solution and I will do all I can to help Dr Bell’s Family Centre stay open.”

The charity generates income from the café and crèche however it relies on fundraising to meet annual running costs of £220,000.

Clark added: “We can recover from this setback and we are working closely with the council. We are grateful for its support as a major funder and to all our funders. As a small charity I think we need to now look at how we can make the centre more sustainable.”

“We have cut costs where we can and submitted several funding applications to make up the shortfall. The local community have also shown us incredible support.”

Volunteers have set up a new working group and plans are on the table to launch an online fundraising campaign as well as a community consultation in early 2017.

Dr Bells Family Centre opened in 2006 as a partnership between the NHS, the City of Edinburgh Council and local community organisations to deliver help and support to families with young children. 

Cllr Cammy Day, education, children and families convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "We are aware of the funding issues facing Dr Bell's and are working closely with them, with NHS Lothian and with other organisations to do whatever is possible to help them achieve sustainability for the valuable service they provide.

"With this aim, we have and will continue to provide advice and support through council officers and third party assistance to identify other potential sources of funding and future service developments. The council continues to be Dr Bell's largest funder with approved annual grant funding of £47k for three years."

Visit www.drbells.co.uk to volunteer or make a donation