Springfield Children's Centre, Birmingham

The Springfield Children's Centre


The Springfield Children’s Centre

The Springfield Project (the project) was established nearly ten years ago under the auspices of St Christopher’s Church, Springfield. Springfield is a vibrant and diverse area; it ranks amongst the top 20% most deprived areas in Birmingham. Its population is largely Pakistani in heritage, but includes people from a wide variety of cultural and faith backgrounds. The Project has worked with hundreds of local families, providing services that include a nursery, a parent and toddler group, family support and a youth group.

Faith-based organisations have moved into the policy spotlight, seen by policy makers as ‘sources of values and commitment’, with an important contribution to ‘building a sense of local community and renewing civil society’. Birmingham City Council (BCC) first approached the Project in 2003 to consider the development of a Children’s Centre. Following a further invitation and consultation in 2005, the decision was made to proceed with partnership arrangements to establish a purpose built Children’s Centre as an integral part of the Project, supported by £2 million of city council funding. Like other Children’s Centres, it meets the Children’s Centre ‘core offer’ as set out by central government.

Springfield Children’s Centre is unique amongst Birmingham’s 67 Children’s Centres in its location within a faith-based organisation closely linked to an Anglican church. The Centre began providing services in March 2008, with its formal launch taking place on 15 November 2008. Four key factors motivated BCC staff and those directly involved with the Project to consider the development of a Children’s Centre as an integral part:

• Tackling disadvantage
• Meeting local needs
• A practical expression of faith
• The importance of being inclusive

The centrality of faith
It was important for the Project to maintain their Christian origins and ethos: ‘we wanted to keep faith at the centre of it’, while at the same time providing services in an inclusive way to a multi-racial and multi-faith community. The Project needed to be sure of the support of St Christopher’s Church congregation. It was important to take time over the decision, to think and to pray, and to be sure that worshippers understood that there would be major changes to the structure of the building (including demolition of the church hall) and financial implications. As a Christian church in an area with a majority Muslim population, it was vitally important to ensure that the Children’s Centre initiative had the support of local people: ‘we could not operate if the Muslim community did not want us to be here’.

A relationship of trust
The partnership between the Project and BCC is characterised by a high degree of trust: ‘it is essentially a relationship of trust, and really quite extraordinary in that’. Those involved in the negotiations over buildings and finance felt that the discussions were conducted in a very positive manner, with trust, openness and generosity of spirit on both sides. The worries that some in the Project had had about co-option into a government agenda, or about their faith foundation being diluted, have not materialised; instead there is: ‘incredible generosity towards the church and goodwill’.

Shared vision and values
A number of factors contributed to the positive nature of the partnership. These included shared vision and values: in particular a concern with providing high quality services for children and families. The role of key individuals both in BCC - ‘there have been some key champions of the initiative in the local authority’ - and in the Project was crucial.

The distinctive nature and contribution of Springfield Children’s Centre
A warm and inclusive welcome
Families using the Children’s Centre describe its characteristics in terms of the warmth of the welcome offered, its inclusive way of working and the variety of benefits offered to parents and children: ‘the Christian and non-Christian elements, including the space, the people, the facilities, are well blended together’. The recognition of different religious festivals and provision of materials in community languages is valued. Parents welcomed the fact that their children benefit from a variety of high quality services within walking distance of their homes. They are pleased that their children learn new skills, play with others from different faiths and prepare for school life. For parents themselves, the opportunity to return to study while knowing their children were cared for, to benefit from courses on aspects of parenting, and to make new friends, is highly valued.

A genuine expression of faith
The tone set by staff, of all faiths, contributes to the Centre’s distinctive ethos: ‘a very important thing has been the combination of professionalism and the very genuine expression of faith of the employed people here’. The ongoing connection with St Christopher’s Church, through the involvement of worshippers as volunteers or management committee members, and the links between the Project and the spiritual life of the church is key.

Key relationships with:
Community relationships built over several years with the nearby mosque, and their support during the planning stages of the Children’s Centre, was essential to the way in which it is perceived in the predominantly Muslim local community. Positive relationships with health professionals, as well as financial support from the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust, were also important. Specific support around regeneration was given by the Diocese, Tearfund and the Church Urban Fund.

Critical success factors in the development of Springfield Children’s Centre
Four critical success factors were identified in the development of the Children’s Centre.
• Vision
• Church backing and expertise
• Support of the local community
• Faith and inclusiveness

Concluding Reflections
At a time when voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) are under increasing pressure to provide public services , this case study demonstrates the valuable contribution that faith-based organisations can make to the provision of community based services in partnership with statutory agencies, provided that certain criteria can be met:
• The need for a shared vision
• Strength of organisational identity
• The need for appropriate expertise

 

project started: 
2008
funders: 
For a full list of funders please see the Project's website

The Springfield Project
The Springfield Centre
Springfield Road
Moseley
Birmingham
B13 9NY

phone: 
0121 777 2722