A CHILDREN’S breakfast club which boosts vulnerable youngsters’ attendance at school is facing closure after the council withdrew its funding.
The Venchie in Craigmillar works with 30 young people from difficult backgrounds who organisers say would probably not turn up for class if it wasn’t for the project.
The club doesn’t just provide toast and cornflakes for the youngsters; it puts in wake-up calls to the parents before collecting the children by minibus and after breakfast it walks them to school to make sure they get to their classes.
The project was threatened with losing its funding three years ago, but the council was persuaded to find cash for that year and for the next two years which has allowed it to continue to operate.
But now it has halted all payments - and the project could be forced to shut up shop by the end of the year. Venchie manager Susan Heron said they were surviving at the moment on pockets of funding from trusts. “With what we have in the bank we would be able to run until Christmas, but then we’ll have to start looking at reducing the service totally.”
The Venchie, which has eight staff, also runs an after-school club, drama club, parents’ and toddlers’ club, family days, holiday schemes and a free packed lunch club.
Ms Heron said the council claimed there was no problem with closing the breakfast club because the children could be transferred to the breakfast club at the school.
But she said: “They are missing the point - it’s the telephone wake-up call we give to the parents and the physical picking up the children by the minibus that enables them to get to school and unless they put like for like in place those children are never going to access school.”
She said staff started phoning round at 6.30am to wake parents so they could have the children ready to be picked up by the minibus. The minibus makes two runs, picking up children across an area from Cameron Toll to Newcraighall and has them all at the Venchie by around 8am.
“Then it’s hand-washing, breakfast, tooth-brushing. making sure they have everything they need for school and walking them over to the school as a walking bus.”
The breakfast club costs around £37,000 a year to run.
A video made as part of the campaign to keep the Venchie open includes support from former SNP MSP Kenny MacAskill, outgoing Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, a care worker, local teachers and a former user of the project.
Mr MacAskill : “The Venchie is close to the hearts of people in Craigmillar. The work and play it provides is huge and significant. And the breakfast club is a vital part of the community.”
Ms Dugdale said: “You have no idea what would happen if this services were to close. It’s absolutely critical we do everything we can to support it.”
Social care worker Graham Hall argued the Venchie’s unique service for the youngsters was vital. “If they are not picked up and taken to school, quite often they won’t get there or they’ll get there very late.” And he added: “If it wasn’t here the likelihood is more children would be taken into care quicker.”
Heather Russell, teacher at Niddrie Mill Primary, said the breakfast club gave children a positive start to the day and helped them get to school on time. “If you’re not coming in until playtime you’ve maybe missed most of your literacy lessons for the week; if you’re not there until lunchtime you’re missing literacy and numeracy activities so you’re attainment is going to be lower because you’re not there.”
Callum Laidlaw, Conservative councillor for Portobello/Craigmillar, said the withdrawal of funding from the Venchie was “sad and troubling” and seemed to contradict the council and
Scottish Government policy of supporting early intervention in helping to close the poverty and attainment gap.
He said: “While the council offers breakfast clubs in the Venchie’s catchment, their use is predicated on the children actually turning up at school. Given the chaotic lifestyles of many of these children’s parents, the pick-up service of the Venchie, coupled with making sure children are clean and suitably dressed goes way beyond just giving them breakfast.
“I’m disappointed the council has not been able to prioritise a small amount of funding for something as meaningful as this while it can seemingly find endless money for projects like trams and cycling.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The needs of vulnerable children are a top priority for us. Children can attend the breakfast club open to everyone at their school. Where a need is identified, a place will be allocated at no cost to the parent/carer. All children are fully supported and any additional needs they have will be met by their school and other council services.”