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Helping Hartlepool families

Though times are tough for Hartlepool families, one community centre is going all out to support local children.

Around the table, children tuck into sausage and mash, chatting to each other and with staff and volunteers. The meal is happy and peaceful, with everyone keen to get back to their Halloween activities. Soon after, a little boy returns to colouring in a pumpkin picture, older children carve pumpkins, and two friends make Frankenstein decorations out of cardboard.

This is Kilmarnock Road Centre on a wet Wednesday evening. While the children eat and play, donations for food parcels are stacked neatly and a new scheme in conjunction with HartlePower is being arranged – to help families struggling to afford gas and electric.

Centre manager Ann Heaton explains: “If we can help, we will. If we can’t, we signpost. There’s just a multitude of things that families are struggling with. Even families who are working are struggling. Pride is a massive thing in Hartlepool and people feel like they’ve failed when they can’t manage. We find people don’t like to ask directly, but they trust us so they’ll tell us what’s wrong and then we can offer help and that’s different. People come here first, and that’s testament to the way we do things.”

Building back better

Ann and her team took on Kilmarnock Road Children and Young People Family Resource Centre after a previous manager was given a suspended sentence for financial mismanagement.

At first, the community wouldn’t use or trust the centre, and it was an uphill struggle for the group to rebuild confidence in the project.

But over the past two years they have restored its good reputation. Before the pandemic, 100 people were coming through the door every week. Two successful youth clubs, a chair aerobics class and a popular bingo run by a 93-year-old volunteer were some of the regular activities on offer.

Ann, who manages the centre with a small team of staff and volunteers, said: “We’ve created a new way of working: a belief in the centre and more importantly, a belief in the people around here that good can come of this and they can do something useful.”

When Covid-19 began, the centre was well placed to help. A £1,000 grant from Anglian Water’s Positive Difference fund, managed by County Durham Community Foundation, supported its efforts. 

Though not every activity is back up and running after the pandemic, but Ann and the team are still making progress. A play scheme ran through the summer, the youth club remains popular, and a plan is in place to keep going while following government regulations.

Ray of sunshine

The youth club in particular is a ray of sunshine as winter closes in.

Ann said: “The biggest thing we’ve found is that children can become insular if they don’t see their friends. And often a child’s friends are not the children they see at school, so school doesn’t meet that need. Through the youth club they have made connections so it’s really good to see them together. Some of the children who come here have challenging behaviours elsewhere but they behave really well here.

“We make tea every night, they wash their hands and then they sit around the table. Another child didn’t want to eat here because they were nervous and we’ve worked hard to change that.

Each Thursday we have a Teddy Bears picnic and they all sit on the floor and have a proper picnic. To hear them laughing and making jokes and having a brilliant time is so special. They really look forward to it. They have a routine here and it’s really good for them.”

Many of the children attend the nearby Grange Primary School. A walking bus organised by the centre collects them after lessons. After homework they do activities and eat their tea together.

Ann said: “It means working parents don’t have to scrabble around for childcare and they don’t have to turn down work if it’s available. The children like coming here.”

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