Community calls out plans to close two Hackney children's centres
- Credit: Moira Gil Perez
Hackney parents are campaigning against the proposed closure of two Hackney children's centres.
Parents are calling on Hackney Council to stop the closures of Hillside Children's Centre in Holmleigh Road and Fernbank Children’s Centre in Fountayne Road.
A consultation on the proposed closures has been set up stating that the move would enable the council to make savings as well as changes to "protect services for young children into the future".
Natalie Aguilera, spokesperson for the Save Fernbank group campaigning against the proposed plans and a parent with a child at Fernbank Nursery, said: "If we allow these children’s centres to be closed, I believe that more will follow as Hackney Council continues to make cuts to vital services."
Ms Aguilera says parents are "angry and emotional about possible staff redundancies and "deeply anxious" about the impact on their children as well as the "enormous difficulty of finding affordable childcare elsewhere".
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She reports that staff were only informed more than 24 hours after news of the closures was published in Hackney Today.
Parents found out about the closures a day after staff on September 15.
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"We will continue to fight for the wonderful, long-serving staff, the young children attending this incredible children’s centre, families being supported by the centre, and for more, not less, quality, affordable childcare in Hackney," Ms Aguilera said.
The council has states via its online consultation that the proposal "follows the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and sustained government cuts on the council’s finances."
It also maintains that there is currently a 23 per cent childcare vacancy rate in early years settings across the borough, "which reflects a London-wide trend of falling reception class rolls".
The consultation document states: "This means some centres are no longer viable in the current financial climate."
The council says the centres earmarked for closure are "situated in an area where increasing numbers of children are attending independent settings" and that they are two of five centres in the area.
It says 23 children are likely to be impacted "by the time any changes happen" and that those families will be given priority in other settings and, that "a small number of staff will be affected".
But campaigners worry that the closures would result in the loss of more than 100 places for quality, affordable childcare.
In response to the objections, Cllr Caroline Woodley, portfolio holder for early years, said: “The council has tens of millions of pounds of savings to make due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and sustained government cuts.
"This is seriously impacting services across the council, including the service that manages children’s centres, which has £1million savings to make.
“We all know how important early education, early help and childcare is and yet it remains seriously underfunded by central government.
"Local authorities across the country have been continually calling for more support for this sector. We have held off proposing cuts to our children’s centre provision for as long as we possibly can, but we cannot keep promising to carry on as usual for less money - it is unsustainable."
Cllr Woodley said that closing the children's centres is "absolutely not something we want to do".
The council runs 20 children’s centres, 11 of which offer childcare places, subsidised by the council.
Cllr Woodley added: "But we will do everything in our power to support families to access provision in nearby and alternative centres and nurseries; we have already begun mapping this."
The councillor also promised that staff will be supported and will have the opportunity for redeployment into vacant positions in other council-run centres.
The consultation ends on November 16.
Save Fernbank has also launched a petition opposing the plans, to sign visit www.change.org/p/hackney-council-save-fernbank-and-hillside-children-s-centres. The group will also be protesting be demonstrating in front of Hackney Town Hall on October 20 from 6pm.