6 months on…

Today marks 6 months since this campaign met with the commissioners at Blackpool Public Health, to warn them about the potential consequences of ending the breastfeeding support project in Blackpool, and to urge them to reconsider their decision.

In that time we have met with both of the Blackpool MPs, we have spoken at a meeting of the elected representatives of the council, our campaign has been discussed in the House of Commons, we have met with the leader of the Council and other council representatives, and we have had messages of support too numerous to count. Many positives.

However we have also heard and continue to hear many harrowing stories of families in Blackpool whose early feeding journeys have been blighted by the lack of available appropriate breastfeeding support. In our opinion this is not acceptable. And so we continue to work hard, behind the scenes, to ensure that all levels in the council understand what it is that Blackpool is currently missing.

We do not blog here about every single meeting or conversation because we have felt that movement from Blackpool Council was in a positive direction. However, it has now been six months since that first meeting, with our next meeting scheduled for the new year when it will have been a full seven months since the end of the breastfeeding support project, and still we seem no nearer to our objective of reinstating some kind of breastfeeding peer support programme for the families of this Town.

Today we have once again been told that in the Council’s opinion, Blackpool families do not want a breastfeeding peer support service, and so we ask that those of you reading this in Blackpool who would like to share your views on the subject, complete our form, here.

APPG Infant Feeding & Inequalities

The plight of the infant feeding support services in Blackpool was raised again at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities at the Houses of Parliament this week. It was first mentioned at the July meeting, and this prompted the visit in September from MP Alison Thewliss, and the offices of MPs Paul Maynard and Gordon Marsden, already reported here.

As this issue continues to be a concern at the highest levels, this campaign will continue to fight for an infant feeding specialist role in Blackpool, supported by a team of well trained and well supervised breastfeeding peer supporters.

As we have further updates to share, you will find them here!

Meeting with the Leader of the Council, 9th October

As requested by the Leader of Blackpool Council Simon Blackburn after resident Zoe Walsh’s representation to the Full Council meeting on Sept 20th, a meeting was arranged between this campaign and the council, including Public Health.

This meeting took place on Monday 9th October at Bickerstaffe House (pictured) and included a discussion of the points raised in the speech made on 20th September (which is included here with links to the evidence cited Council talk 20th Sept 2017 – annotated) as well as some finer details and larger discussions.

Following the meeting we have agreement to proceed with a request for the council’s scrutiny committee to look at the decision that was made leading to the ending of provision on June 30th.

We also have a commitment to look at how breastfeeding peer support and infant feeding strategy should look in Blackpool in the short and longer term, and have been invited back to discuss this further at a later date.

Definite progress!


If you would like to get in touch with the campaign to fight for appropriate breastfeeding support services in Blackpool, you can email blackpool@breastfeedingsupport.co.uk or contact us through our Facebook group.

Meeting Blackpool’s Councillors

Co-founder of the campaign Zoe Walsh, outside Blackpool Town Hall with her daughters. Zoe was herself a recipient of Star Buddy support after the birth of both of her daughters, and went on to train as a breastfeeding peer supporter herself.

On the 25th May 2017, around a month after hearing about Public Health Blackpool’s decision not to renew the funding for the Infant Feeding Lead and the Star Buddies Breastfeeding Peer Support programme (funded in various guises to this point for around 12 years), this campaign’s co-founder Zoe Walsh applied for a slot to present at a Blackpool Council meeting (to the elected representatives). We waited for a date to be sent to us, and enquired in June to find that we had been missed off the list and, because of the Extraordinary Meeting in July and the Summer Recess in August, would now not be able to present until the September Meeting, long after the Star Buddies project had been ended and the individuals working in the programme had been forced to move on with their lives and into other jobs, leaving Blackpool with no breastfeeding peer support service or infant feeding lead for the first time in 12 years.

We were told that this would be a 5 minute space to speak in, with no debate, and no discussion, simply a pre-written response read out at the end, but that it was the correct forum to raise this with the elected representatives of the council, who effectively control the council’s Public Health department.
In the council chambers there is a public gallery, and we let people know ahead of time via Facebook and this website that they could attend so that we could have that gallery filled with lots of faces of people nodding their approval of the speech.

We began to write a speech and soon found that 5 minutes is not nearly long enough to explain the ways that the Infant Feeding Project was previously meeting many of the requirements of the Council, and in order to squeeze the really vital material into the time, we had to miss out a lot of the statistics and the evidence base. We are planning to provide an annotated version of the speech, with links to the evidence, here in due course. If you just cannot wait, there is already some information about our case here.

On Wednesday 20th September, Zoe was finally able to make that presentation to the council, and the front row of the gallery was indeed filled with spectators nodding their approval of the speech. As it happens, the elected representatives were also pleased to hear the speech and Zoe was approached by a number of councillors after the meeting, offering contact details and asking for more information.

There’s a clip of the speech, and the council’s reaction to it, viewable on the council’s website from about 4m30s or via the clip we have put on youtube, below.

We are extremely pleased to report that, in spite of being told that a pre-written response would be read out by the Portfolio Holder for Health Cllr Amy Cross, actually the Leader of the Council, Cllr Simon Blackburn, stood at the end of Zoe’s talk to respond, saying

Ms Walsh has said a number of things that I don’t think we have taken sufficient account of, so rather than give the response that we had, I’d like to offer a meeting between this campaign and both Cllr Blackburn and Cllr Cross, as well as the Director of Public, who had come into the meeting just before it began and was there to hear the speech, and to later receive a printed copy of the petition we ran earlier in the year – now amounting to 54 printed A4 pages of signatures and comments! If you have not signed, please feel free.

We are in the process of finding  a mutually suitable date, as councillors and campaigners have actual jobs in addition to their community work! We will keep this page updated.

Tuesday 19th Sept – Meeting the MPs

Pictured R:L – Gill, from MP Gordon Marsden’s office; Kristie Legg, local mum, N Lancs Star Buddy and previous Blackpool Star Buddy; Liz Nuñez, local mum, previous Infant Feeding Lead and Peer Support Co-ordinator for Blackpool community; Zoe Walsh, local mum, Doula and campaign co-founder; local mum and mum-to-be Caroline; Alison Thewliss MP, chair of APPG IFI; Local mum of 2 Dani; Paul Maynard MP; Shel Banks, local mum, Infant Feeding Specialist and campaign co-founder; Loreto Iglesias, local mum, La Leche Leader and Chair of the Blackpool Maternity Matters group.

On Tuesday 19th Sept Blackpool was fortunate to host a visit from the Chair of the APPG for Infant Feeding and Inequalities, MP Alison Thewliss, who came down from Glasgow with her assistant Graeme to meet some Blackpool families with our Blackpool MPs.

Big thanks are due to Paul Maynard MP and his assistant Rob for attending, and to MP Gordon Marsden who, while unable to attend the meeting himself owing to commitments in Westminster, WAS able to send Gill from his office, who was great.

Two hours of discussion, lots of learning, hearing stories and other information about the infant feeding and peer support service over the past 10 years, and the loss of that service.

Here is a snapshot of the themes discussed at the meeting:

* awareness of this issue has reached Westminster and the Chair of APPG was sufficiently concerned to come and speak to local MPs and residents.

* the campaign has clear support from both Conservative and Labour MPs for Blackpool

* Blackpool mothers spoke about the difference it made, and how much they valued the service… One pregnant mum spoke about her concern that she will not have access to the support she so desperately needed and received last time

* there are no longer peer supporters for Blackpool families at the hospital, so that whilst North Lancashire still has hospital Star Buddies, and they aim to speak to all mums who need support on the ward, ultimately they are commissioned to support mums from Fylde and Wyre so priority now given by postcode

* the absence of an infant feeding lead for Blackpool now (commissioned with the peer support service) means there is no one for community staff to refer issues to, or to train the staff in breastfeeding OR formula feeding management, or to resolve issues around medications and breastfeeding, or unsafe preparation of powdered infant milk, or the rights of babies to be breastfed wherever they are, or the legal and social responsibilities of Blackpool businesses and employers to young families – no one tying the threads together to work for the  greater good of the population here.

* it was obvious from hearing the mothers speak that visits and contacts from peer supporters, and the availability of breastfeeding groups in the community, reduced much of the social isolation they felt in the early days , weeks and months of motherhood.

As the @APPGIFI Twitter feed said this evening, “Clear from the evidence we heard today that the peer support was about so much more than breastfeeding for the mums who used the service.”

Good to “talk together” as the poster says – but more action needed going forward.

Alison Thewliss MP in Blackpool today
MP Alison Thewliss pictured here at Revoe School in the country’s most deprived ward, Bloomfield in Blackpool, after the meeting.

September updates – and ways to get involved!

We have two events coming up NEXT WEEK at which we would welcome the attendance some of you, and for you to share your support of!

Firstly, on the afternoon of 19th September, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infant Feeding and Inequalities MP Alison Thewliss, is coming to Blackpool, to meet with Blackpool MP Paul Maynard, and hopefully also Blackpool MP Gordon Marsden – although at time of writing we have not received his commitment to attend – to discuss the loss of breastfeeding peer support and the infant feeding project in the town.

This will be at Revoe Children’s Centre, Grasmere Rd, Blackpool FY1 5HP between 2 and 4pm on Tuesday 19th, and all Blackpool residents, particularly families affected by this loss, then please join us – and it would be good if you could let us know you are attending, below – thank you.

If you are a Blackpool South resident, ie if Gordon Marsden is your MP, it would be great if you could contact him to ask him to attend the event so we can have full cross-party discussion of the issues with accessing breastfeeding support for Blackpool residents.

Secondly, Zoe Walsh Doula will be addressing the elected representatives of Blackpool at a full Council meeting at the Town Hall, from 6pm this coming Wednesday, 20 September. She will give a five minute speech about the loss of the breastfeeding peer support service in Blackpool. There will be no debate, and no discussion, however there is a public gallery, and it would be wonderful to have that gallery filled with lots of faces of people nodding their approval of the speech. If you would like to attend this please get in touch – we will be meeting outside the Town Hall at about 5.30/ 5.45pm and all are welcome, to show support.

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The end of an era

Blackpool Hospital Star Buddies 30/06

Friday 30th June marked the end of the 10 year breastfeeding peer support project in Blackpool. While this was undeniably a very sad day for those losing their jobs, and for all those whose colleagues are leaving their posts, there was still a sense of celebration in the air for all that has been achieved for the families of Blackpool in that decade.

There was a a little gathering in the hospital, and another in the community, where kind words were spoken and gifts exchanged:

1000’s of families reached, many stories shared on this website. Support given without judgement, information given with kindness, choices facilitated with empathy.  The Star Buddies came in with passion, and can leave their jobs with their heads held high.

Pictured above are the four hospital Star Buddies leaving their Blackpool jobs, plus Dawn Burrows (Hospital Infant Feeding Co-ordinator), Shel Banks (Hospital Baby Friendly Co-ordinator),  Alison Leyland (Specialist Midwife for Diabetes) and Janet Danson-Smith (Patient Experience Lead for the hospital’s Families Division).

There will be a celebration and recognition event later in July for all Blackpool Star Buddies, anyone who wore the classic lime green t-shirts over the past 10 years!

In other news, while the project in its previous form has ended, we here at Blackpool Breastfeeding Support still very much continue the fight to have Breastfeeding Peer Support in some form in our Town.

If you would like to help behind the scenes with this fight, then please get in touch.

Update w/c 19th June

While it may seem that the campaign has gone quiet of late, this does not mean we have given up on the fight to retain a Star Buddies Breastfeeding Peer Support service for Blackpool, and there is plenty still going on behind the scenes!

Here are some updates on what has happened in June:

– Zoe Walsh interview for Radio Lancashire

– Protest in Bickerstaffe Square outside council offices – on a grim northern seaside town day for weather, valiant protestors turned out and made their voices heard – resulted in Blackpool Gazette and Granada Reports coverage.

– 2 hour meeting with Director of Public Health and one of the staff involved in commissioning the Star Buddies and the Infant Feeding role and Baby Friendly Accreditation work, via the Breastfeeding Network – Shel Banks and Zoe Walsh for the campaign, plus Blackpool Councillor Paul Galley. Discussions around new Health Visiting Service and how the council propose breastfeeding support will be provided going forward, and around statutory commissioning documents and best practice for breastfeeding peer support.

– Contacts have been made with new MPs and other Blackpool councillors

– Documents being drafted for further council meeting, date TBA

– Blackpool’s Maternity Services Liaison Committee requested input from the campaign at their meeting so this is being provided

– Plans for Star Buddies recognition event

And of course we will continue to keep you updated here with events needing public input, which there will be plenty in the coming weeks and months. Your voice as a local resident, is so important.

Statements from those standing for election on June 8th

We asked for feedback about the loss of the Blackpool breastfeeding peer support service, from the candidates in the GE 2017 for the two Blackpool constituencies – here are their responses: (in order of receipt)

Chris Webb standing for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Labour)

“Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve raised this issue with the Council and Councillors and highlighted my concerns. We need to ensure services like this continue to do the excellent work with new mothers. If elected tomorrow I will do all I can to help.”

Paul Maynard standing for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Conservative)

“I am a supporter of the scheme. My view has always been as that however scarce money for public health might be, it should be focused on the area’s biggest challenges. Maternal health remains a real challenge in this town and I’ve seen many examples of excellent practice, not only via the Star Buddies peer scheme but also via the Family Nurse Partnership and others down the years. It seems foolish to cut funding in areas of public health where the outcomes are often poorest. Both perinatal and antenatal health in Blackpool are major public health concerns so I share your disappointment at the decision made by the local Labour Council. The local NHS take the view that ‘breast is best’ and have been keen to recruit and train more midwives and health visitor in this area, they are in full support of the scheme. The Star Buddies not only had paid staff but also many volunteer mums who are keen to continue helping locally and have received accredited training, so whether the service continues under the Star Buddies brand or via some other means I am keen to ensure the help continues. I am hoping to set up some meetings with the Council post election on this matter and will do my best to try and reduce the gaps in service.”

Gordon Marsden standing for Blackpool South (Labour)

“Thank you for the email you sent me on the withdrawal of the Star Buddy Support Service in Blackpool. When this was first brought to my attention – in mid-May – I wanted to try and get a response and explanation from the Director of Public Health as to the reasoning for this decision.

My office contacted his office and received a general statement to the effect that although the service was well-liked and highly regarded, that because it had not been able for whatever reason to expand the number of mothers choosing breast feeding, they needed to look at other avenues via the new Better Start partnership and additional investment in the health visiting service.

I wanted to see more details on this and therefore pressed the department further for more detail and strategy.  I have recently seen this and while it does essentially repeat the original argument, there are further questions I would like to pose to the new Children’s Services Director as well as the Director of Public Health.

I intend therefore after June 8th to seek a meeting with them if I am re-elected as a Blackpool MP to take those questions further.  I certainly believe that those women who have contributed their time and effort to the Star Buddies volunteer scheme should be fully recognised for their contribution and be further consulted as to what role there might be for them in the future.  Their enthusiasm and experience should not in my view be discarded, and though I hope that their expertise and comments were taken into account in the original ‘stakeholder feedback’ which I am told was requested, I will press the Director of Public Health further on this.

It is I am afraid a fact that Government has withdrawn £450 million of grant funding from Blackpool’s care services since 2010 which has meant they have forced many difficult decisions to be made locally.  Despite this however I am told that the Better Start funding will enable enhanced investment in Health Visitors. I and my party have incidentally pledged that we would review in Government the funding and not least for outreach services in children’s centres which this Government’s cuts have affected.”

Protest outside council offices, 6th June

The weather forecasts were dismal – 100% chance of rain and up to 50mph winds – and being residents of Blackpool and the surrounding areas we are all very well aware of how the weather can be!

BUT! undeterred, a small but passionate band of families staged a protest in Bickerstaffe Square Blackpool over lunchtime on Tuesday 6th June,  for between 30 minutes and 2 hours, with brief spells in the nearby coffee shop to warm up and refuel!

Here are some photos taken relatively early on in the event, by local photographer Richard Hardwick – some of us were in the cafe and some of us had not yet arrived! All of us had been almost blown to smithereens !

Granada Reports came to report on us, with a segment going out on the evening news, as did The Blackpool Gazette – we’ll link here where we have that coverage.


Remember if you have not yet signed the petition you can do so here