The Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families opened in 1983. It was set up as an integrated service for families within the local community of Corby, and was staffed by a multidisciplinary team including a teacher, social worker, early years worker and early health practitioner. The centre was financed by Northamptonshire County Council and jointly managed by the Education and Social Services Departments and local health authority. The town of Corby was established on the back of the steel industry. The centre was set up in a former comprehensive school built in the 1930s to provide an education for the children of steelworkers.
Pen Green, as a centre for children and families, was a response to the belief that access to adequate early childhood services are a need and right for all families and communities. Initially, staff had to work with a vocal group of families against the centre, who felt that there was little consultation between those setting up the centre and those expected to use it. Local families were clear that what they needed was a radically new kind of service.
Staff adopted an ‘open-door’ approach and invited parents into the centre before the concrete was even dry. They worked with local families, local politicians and local authority officers to conceptualise the vision and principles of this new provision. All of the work was underpinned with the principles of community education, and the belief that all parents had a critical role to play as their child’s primary educators. A commitment to the children and families of the local community and encouraging their active involvement in the planning of their services has remained at a core value of the Pen Green Centre today.
Parents and practitioners shared the experience of transforming a derelict comprehensive school, which many of them had attended, into a stimulating and secure environment for very young children and their families. Together, they created an organisation through which nursery education, family support, and adult community education could be combined under one roof as a comprehensive, integrated service.
A ‘One-Stop’ Shop
Through this collaborative approach, the Pen Green community developed a ‘one-stop shop’ for families with young children including:
The centre became a focus for lifelong learning in the community. Parents were engaged in an equal, active and responsible partnership with practitioners.
Timeline of Innovative Practice
Over the years political agendas and government initiatives have impacted upon Pen Green. We have been at the forefront of many early years initiatives including ‘Early Excellence Centres’ and the ‘SureStart’ programme. We have also expanded our provision to offer families a more comprehensive service including early years education and care, and out of school provision for children up to 11 years.
1983 The Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families is opened
1996 Pen Green Research Base officially opened
1997 Designated as an ‘Early Excellence Centre’
1998 First cohort of the Pen Green MA begins
1999 Pen Green becomes a Sure Start trailblazer
2004 Designated the first children’s centre in Northamptonshire
2004 Baby and Toddler Nest is opened
2004 Pen Green joins the Neighbourhood Nursery Initiative
2005 Pen Green consults on the setting up of the NIPQL
2006 Nursery gains school status
2006 Pen Green opens the ‘Snug’, a new 40 place nursery
2010 Chosen to lead DfE project ‘Early Years Teaching Centres’
2012 The ‘Studio’ nursery and ‘The Couthie’ early years provision are opened
2012 Selected to lead DfE project ‘Being Two’ to support disadvantaged two year olds
2014 Designated Teaching School Status
2016 Pen Green becomes secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nursery
Schools and Nursery Classes