Be a child for a moment:take a dry sponge and weigh it; then, dip it in water and weigh it again.

You will find it is now at least five times heavier.

A small child's brain responds to stimulus in the same way a sponge reacts when placed in water.

But what are the prospects for small children living in areas of high unemployment with little childcare provision and sparse facilities for families?

A sponge without water will not expand just as a child without a good start will not reach its potential.

And, sadly, economics dictate that nurseries and playgroups go where demand is highest affluent neighbourhoods where families have at least one parent in work.

Something has to be done to ensure all children have the same start. And, thankfully, something has. Sure Start is a £452 million national programme set up to prevent social exclusion.

As the name implies, its aim is that all children, regardless of background, will have a sure start in life, educationally, socially and in terms of health.

Grounded in that is the recognition that the whole process of lifelong learning, which gives us control over our quality of life, starts in the early years.

In practical terms, Sure Start supports families with children up to four years old living in areas where the resources that most of us take for granted do not exist: a disposable income, good housing, good transport and so on.

And make no mistake money and resources are vital. How do you introduce a child to books, for example, if you haven't got the bus fair to the nearest library or public transport is unreliable because it is cash-starved?

That granted, how do you tackle such issues without setting up further barriers between "us" and "them"? The short answer is: by putting it in the hands of the community.

So, each initiative is run by a local partnership, which includes parents and community groups as well as experts from Education, Social Services, the Health Authority, the Early Years Development & Childcare Partnership and so on.

By being fixed in the community it serves, each Sure Start maintains its individuality, reflecting local needs.

That said, there are some core services, for example: home visits, where wanted; practical support for parents in the form of information, advice, classes or access to a mentor; extra services like nurseries or parent and toddler clubs, where parents can chat while the children play; family healthcare; support for children with special needs.

East Sussex already has two Sure Start partnerships.

The one in Hailsham East is based in a new purpose-built community building that is shared by a nursery, playgroup and creche.

The other in Broomgrove, Hastings, is based in a resource centre in a converted block of flats on a housing estate.

It benefits from a highly rated day nursery that has recently moved into the area, a childminding network and Playlink, which provides support in the home for parents.