Why can’t we give everyone free classes?

posted in: Suffolk Babies | 0

This week saw the re-starting of our free classes for Gainsborough residents. We are delighted to have secured some more funding to keep running this service! Although we have run free antenatal classes in Gainsborough since we took over the service in 2017, relatively few of the attendees at this location actually live locally. We know that many people are missing out on free provision – and these are often the people who need it most.

However, getting funding to provide free services is a double-edged sword, as every time we promote our free classes in Gainsborough, that are tied to a particular set of eligibility criteria from the funders, we get hit from all sides with cries of “That’s not enough! I need free classes in my area too!”

We would LOVE to make all our classes free, but unfortunately it’s not really up to us. I just wanted to let you in on the process of applying for funding and explain why we have to charge for classes.

Firstly, you have to find the pots of funding that are available. You can’t just ring up the County Council or the National Lottery and ask them for money. As in all things there is a process. So you have to search through different options and read all their small print. Some have a very short window of opportunity in which to apply. Most are for very specific geographical areas or target groups.

When you have found something you can apply for, it’s like applying for a job. There’s a massive form, where you are second-guessing the buzzwords they want to see, and the competition is incredibly fierce. Once you have applied, you wait. And wait. We applied for the Gainsborough funding back in March, and finally received half the amount we applied for in September.

Once you have secured your funding, there is usually an end date, by which time you have to have spent all the money. Project funding rarely lasts longer than a year, so you have to start thinking about getting in the next lot of money right away.

I don’t want this to sound self-pitying, and we are not going to give up on trying to get more money! But I do want you to have an understanding of why it’s so hard to get money out of the system. Bigger charities employ someone to do nothing but apply for funding, because it is a full time job. We do what we can and have worked with some incredibly helpful organisations who have given us funds to do more, such as our local councillor who gave us some money to make improvements to our centre; Active Suffolk who have funded a project for younger mums’ postnatal fitness; East Suffolk Council who are funding our new postnatal pack; and of course Let’s Talk Reading, who really get what we are trying to achieve and continue to be huge champions of our cause.

All this increases my resolve that we did the right thing by setting up a social enterprise. With the way the system works at the moment, we cannot rely solely on sporadic income from funding. We have to make this work in a different way, so that we can continue to provide education and support, whatever the funding situation. We can’t do what we do on the basis of not knowing whether we will be able to provide anything in a year’s time if the money runs out and we don’t succeed in getting any more.

Antenatal and postnatal support ought to be a much greater priority for the government. After all, so many problems later in childhood and adulthood could be avoided if the child has a good start in life. We know that the first 1,000 days are crucial in a child’s development. And yet, funded support continues to be cut. Fewer than half of the county’s Children’s Centres are remaining open on a full-time basis. We meet mums all the time who say they don’t have a Health Visitor. There is less and less free provision for your average new parent. This is no criticism of all the people on the ground who work so incredibly hard under increasingly challenging circumstances. I’m talking about a lack of investment and a short-sightedness on a national level.

Apart from when we have specific projects, like the Gainsborough one, our model frees us from the constraints set by funding bodies. For the majority of what we provide, we don’t have to be bound by restrictions that mean we can only support certain people in particular locations. Our Essential Preparation for Birth workshops are open to everyone, whether it’s your first baby or your third. Our free baby group and toddler group that we run from Kesgrave are also open to anyone – we never turn anybody away. We are able to give free places on our baby classes when we know someone really needs it. We give free places to anyone referred to us by Home Start, or Social Services, for example.

How do we do all this? It’s thanks to you and your support of our paid-for classes. We appreciate that not everyone can afford £6.50 a class, but we keep the costs as low as possible. Many of our classes have never had a price rise since Jo and I started teaching in 2011.

All the profits from our classes go into funding Essential Preparation for Birth workshops. If you can pay, you are directly supporting the free services we provide. By lots of people contributing a little, we can create something much bigger and more powerful. It’s a virtuous circle, and, we hope, a sustainable one. The bigger we get and the more support we have, the better we are able to persuade people in power to listen to us and put more emphasis on supporting new parents. You can be part of this.

If you have been to one of our free Essential Preparation for Birth workshops, please consider doing a term of Munchkins, to pay it forward to the babies coming after yours. We want to do more, and bookings on classes will allow us to do this!

We are a small team, with a management team of two. Jo and I work really hard to continue to provide the very best antenatal classes, baby classes and toddler classes to as many of you as possible. Jo regularly works a 70 hour week and is a single mum, we have five children between us, we often don’t get paid, and we live and breathe Suffolk Babies. We’ll keep on campaigning for families, working every hour we can and investing in our community to make the changes we know need to happen to enable families to really thrive during pregnancy and the preschool period. Together let’s make Suffolk the best place in the country to have a baby!

Interested in supporting us in other ways than by coming to baby classes? See our page on how you can join our mission to revolutionise support for new parents:

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