A scheme has been launched to ensure that youngsters in a former pit town get a flying start to their education.

The Government has given almost £2.3m for a three-year Sure Start programme in Stanley, which aims to help children under-four in deprived areas to fulfil their potential.

The Stanley scheme, the fourth to be launched in County Durham, will involve various agencies and parents, and is part of the Government's drive to tackle child poverty.

It will help up to 1,000 youngsters in and around the town, providing playgroups, advice sessions, parent support, a toy library, childminding, child care and nursery places, an outdoor play area and a mobile play unit.

The scheme will also introduce an equipment-lending service, increased midwife and health visitor services, and sessions to help people stop smoking.

The programme, which will employ about ten people, is looking to set up a base in the centre of Stanley.

Chairman Pauline Murray said: "We have established a good partnership in Stanley, and parents are enthusiastic.

"The idea is that we work with parents and statutory organisations, to develop new and exciting services for young children and their families.

"It is all about giving our children the best possible start we can."

Health Minister Yvette Cooper said: "This new Sure Start programme, which will be based in Stanley, is bringing £2.29m over three years, to improve the life chances of local children by giving greater access to family support, child health services and early education.

"The programme will make a real difference for children and families."

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett said: "Sure Start aims to give our young children a flying start - and gets parents involved in the future of their children.

"The programme will provide a wide package of help, advice and support for local families and children, developed in consultation with the local community."

A programme manager will be in place next month, and staff including family, community development and health workers, are being recruited