ALTON is due to bid farewell this month to Alison Cliffe who, since 2006, has been instrumental in spearheading the development of a highly-effective and well-respected extended services network to support vulnerable families.

Based at Bushy Leaze Children and Families Centre, working alongside business manager Clare Allen, Alison was employed under a new government initiative, for five hours per week, as an extended services co-ordinator, developing and growing the role to make a difference to the lives of many children and their families – an achievement of which she is justifiably proud.

In preparing to bow out on January 19. Alison, who is retiring and moving with her husband to Bridport, Dorset, has expressed heartfelt thanks to Jayne Heath and Nigel Hutton, headteachers at that time of Bushy Leaze and St Lawrence Primary School, who “had the vision in the first place” to run with the extended services programme, opening the door for Alison and Clare to get on board and encourage other schools to join in.

Alison launched the brand name Alton Buckle‚ named after the Anglo Saxon buckle discovered during archaeological excavations in Mount Pleasant between 1959 and 1961. One of the town’s most treasured artefacts, it is an item of great beauty and strength, symbolising the history and fortitude of the town, and it was seen by Alison to embrace the concept of the partnership she was striving to develop.

Armed with the Alton Buckle logo, Alison went on to set up a networking group for all extended services co-ordinators across Hampshire to meet up and share good practice and, with Clare, to set up the Alton Buckle after-school clubs to support parents across the town and surrounding villages, in more recent times supporting the transition of the after-school clubs to a private provider.

During her time in Alton, Alison has brought in more than £1m of activities and support through working with a range of different partners, which has included funding to set up an after-school club at Medstead Primary School and, one of her greatest achievements, to build the Alton Buckle community building attached to Wootey Infant School, which has become a hub for pre-school and after-school and community activities, including the school’s ground breaking Tiger Club.

Extended services morphed into the Alton Buckle Children’s Partnership, headed by Clare, with Alison as community partnership manager.

But it was in April 2012 that Alison experienced one of her proudest moments when she secured five years of Lottery funding for an Alton Buckle family support team which, she says, has had “a tremendous impact” in helping families, is well respected by Hampshire County Council, and plays a big part in East Hampshire’s early intervention programme.

The project, which will run out of funding in 2017, is supported by key players such as Community First, Alton Community Centre, Alton College, East Hampshire District and Alton Town Council, with “schools at the heart of it” and Bushy Leaze in particular.

Bushy Leaze has taken ownership of Alton Buckle and holds the funds and manages the staff, but schools and other partners have really embraced the partnership, she said.

Pointing out that the aim has always been to “make a difference for families and children and to raise aspiration in Alton and the surrounding area”, Alison said: “We have really made the Alton Buckle partnership work, so that it has become one of the most successful in Hampshire. Ten years ago local families didn’t have this early support. We have done a really good job in getting this wraparound support in place to help families in need and I am really proud of what we have achieved.”

In applauding the way in which the service has evolved over the past 10 years, Alison has paid tribute to the generosity of townsfolk in supporting the project, enabling the children’s partnership to share that generosity with those who are struggling.

And she added: “I’m passionate about it and really hope that the Alton Buckle partnership carries on.”