October 19 2011

This week Haven News went over to the Denton Island Community Centre, where we were kindly shown around by Lucy Rothera, Senior Development Worker for Family Learning and Activities. Lucy helped us to get a better understanding of the huge variety of outstanding community projects put into motion by this branch of the Newhaven Community Development Association (NCDA).

Tucked away on Denton Island the centre supports the entire local community and plays a big part in the NCDA's 'intergenerational' approach to community inclusion. It offers services and care for young people from nursery age right through to their teens and sets about involving their families as much as possible. The younger members of the community are well catered for at Denton Island with the Nursery accepting babies and toddlers up to the age of five and the Family Learning Team organises activities for families with children under eight. The Youth Team arranges projects for the eight to 18 year olds. Through hosting a wide range of activities, the aim is to address health, well-being, education and lifelong learning issues in Newhaven and the local area.

A huge asset to the community, there really is an unbelievable amount happening at the centre. Whilst a number of us may be unaware of the full extent of activities on offer from this community resource, clearly many are familiar with the facility, as last year the centre welcomed more than ten and a half thousand people through its doors to benefit from its services.

The centre features a number of specific and multi-use rooms, some of which are hired out to other organisations to help the NCDA put into practice its vision of creating sustainable services and facilities. Dedicated areas include the Health Room, in which a number of Midwife appointments are available on a weekly basis, and the Sensory Room, which offers a calm environment to support social and language development schemes. The 'Comfy Room' provides a cosy setting for a number of activities, whilst other larger spaces are kept neutral, making them suitable for a more diverse usage, ranging from small children's activity groups, through to youth drop-in sessions.

Another of the facilities at the community centre is the adjoining Denton Island Nursery, which boasts a brilliant garden, as well as two large indoor activity areas. Although the nursery is not a 'funded' project, in the same way that other areas of the centre are, it nonetheless provides a much-needed service for Newhaven. Open 50 weeks of the year, between 8am and 6pm and caring for children aged up to five years, the nursery plays a vital role in enabling parents to access training and employment opportunities.

A clear objective of the centre is to bring all members of the family together through a variety of activities. This is achieved with the help of the Family Learning Team, who work to support education, lifelong learning, health and well-being for parents, carers and families with children aged eight and under. The importance of such involvement is instilled in families from the offset. Alongside mother and baby groups, the centre runs the popular Dads' Group, involving fathers in their child's development, and more recently a Grandparents and Grandchildren Playgroup. Other family orientated children's activities for the under-fives include Jitterbugs Music Group, a lively music and movement group for parents, carers and children, Sensory Play, Buggy Walks and SOCATOTS, all of which are aimed at whole family inclusion.

As well as providing stimulating activities for young children, equal importance is placed on groups focusing on parents and carers themselves. Key support is provided in the form of post-natal groups, parenting skills sessions and other groups offering advice and a means through which people can talk about issues affecting them. The Sure Start Parent Forum is one such group, providing a social platform to raise thoughts and ideas about services in Newhaven and other local issues.

Family inclusion at the community centre doesn't stop at toddler groups. Huge emphasis is placed on the need for children of all ages to maintain relationships with family and other members of the community. For this reason, the NCDA created its Intergenerational Youth Project, bringing together young people and their families through participation in a number of activities. Recently the Rake & Bake club promoted 'Garden to Table' thinking - encouraging adults and young people to grow their own fruit and vegetables and to learn to cook and swap recipes with one another. Similarly, the 'Om Nom Nom' cookery group teaches food preparation and skills to over 11s, which they can then share with their families. The Underpass Design Project is also helping to strengthen cross-community involvement through inviting people of all ages to design and create a themed mural for the underpass at Lower Place in Newhaven.

The centre also recognises the importance of, and need for, services concentrating on young people as individuals, as well as part of the family unit. With the large population of young people in Newhaven, it comes as no surprise that youth work is a big part of the community centre. The Youth Team works to address a wide range of issues affecting local young people between the ages of eight and 18.

One of the team's key projects is the Youth Drop In, funded by the Big Lottery in 2009 and secured for three years until 2012. This free information service is designed to help all young people aged 11 to 18 develop the skills and knowledge to aid them in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Whether they're in need of one-on-one support, sexual health advice, help with careers and CV writing, or just somewhere to relax and know that there is someone to talk to; the youth team is on hand after school, five days a week, to support the youth of Newhaven.

Amazingly, it's not just the Youth Drop In that is free-of-charge; the majority of these worthwhile groups, services and activities are free. Some do not even need to be pre-booked, simply drop by. What is more, the future of such services looks bright. Community centre youth worker Abi Thomas was recently able to secure free football sessions for young people with coaches from Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.  "The sessions are a chance for young people who enjoy football to have an informal kick around and hopefully learn some new skills from qualified Albion coaches," explained Abi.

The centre has also recently announced that, thanks to funding from Sussex Downs College, it is able to start a free six week Zumba course from November, and also has some classes in writing children's stories in the pipeline.

It has to be said that we at Haven News were blown away by the huge variety of activities and services on offer at this brilliant local facility and felt that we had only just scratched the surface. With such a diverse range of ongoing projects, and many more on the cards for the future, the Denton Island Community Centre forms a vital part of the NCDA's mission to make a difference in our community. It's simply up to local people to take full advantage of this true community asset, so that it may continue to deliver long into the future.

Find out more about the Denton Island Community Centre and the work of the NCDA at http://www.ncda.org.uk/  

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