Fernbank and Hillside children's centres closures still 'on the table'

The mayor of Hackney and Cllr Caroline Woodley visit Fernbank and Hillside Children's centres

The mayor of Hackney and Cllr Caroline Woodley met with parents, children and staff at Fernbank and Hillside Children's centres - Credit: Lizzie Kenyon

Hackney leaders visited Fernbank and Hillside children's centres this week, following a decision to pause the proposed closures of both services. 

Mayor Philip Glanville and Cllr Caroline Woodley, portfolio holder for families met with children, parents and staff.

After touring each of the centres the mayor and Cllr Woodley took questions from parents and heard their concerns about potential future closures.

Natalie Aguilera, representative for the Save Fernbank and Hillside Campaign group, said: “We are pleased that mayor Glanville and Cllr Woodley have now been to see these brilliant settings in person and to hear from children and families who benefit from their services."

Hackney Council will review its borough-wide children's centre provision later this year

Hackney Council will review its borough-wide children's centre provision later this year - Credit: Lizzie Kenyon

However Natalie, who is also the parent of a child at Fernbank, expressed "disappointment" that the closures are still not off the table. 

She added: "With cost of living going up, access to key services and affordable childcare provided by centres is more critical than ever.”

The visits took place following recent publication of the findings of the public consultation about the proposed closures which received almost 900 responses.

The December 2021 report found that the majority of respondents (59 per cent) disagreed with the plans. 

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The Save Fernbank and Hillside Campaign which ran throughout the consultation period late last year gained public support from Diane Abbott MP, the Hackney Green Party, Hackney Liberal Democrats and Women’s Equality Party Hackney as well as a wide range of local groups.

Zoe Garbett, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Hackney said: "The Green Party is committed to listening to residents and staff and to protecting these vital services.

"From the work I do in the NHS, I know how important affordable childcare is in addressing inequality and poverty and I will protect children's centres from future closure." 

Meanwhile, Darren Martin from the Hackney Liberal Democrats said it "simply is not good enough to pause the plans to close Fernbank and Hillside". 

He outlined how the parent-led Save Fernbank and Hillside campaign "clearly exposed major issues around the consultation and highlighted the strength of feeling in the community that both centres should stay open".

"That is why the Lib Dems are stepping up support for the parent-led campaign," Mr Martin stated. 

The Hackney Lib Dems have launched a petition calling on Mayor Glanville and Cllr Woodley to guarantee both children’s centres will not face closure and pledge to protect all subsidised childcare places in the borough. 

The closures of Fernbank and Hillside Children's Centres are not off-the-table

The closures of Fernbank and Hillside Children's Centres are not off the table - Credit: Lizzie Kenyon

Cllr Caroline Woodley, cabinet member for Early Years, and the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said in a joint statement: “It was incredibly valuable meeting parents, carers, staff and children on site at the Hillside and Fernbank children's centres, and we really appreciate the time they spent with us.

"It was important to us to continue to listen to the concerns they have and broader issues around accessing affordable childcare, particularly for ages 0-2.

"We know the past few months have been a difficult and worrying time for them, and remain committed to engaging more fully with the community and early education professionals on a review of our borough-wide children’s centre provision."

The review is set to take place later this year, with aims to "reset, refocus and reshape" the council's future plans for its early years services. 

It will also carry out a review into the affordability of childcare in the borough. 

The Hackney leaders said they were "proud" that the council has managed to retain 20 children's centres in Hackney, "when this provision has been decimated across the country". 

"We have one of the highest per child spend on children’s centres in the UK and have continued to support all of our centres throughout the pandemic, which has meant additional expenditure," they said.

"Any plans we put forward will have to recognise both the pressures on settings and the very real and increasing pressures on the council’s finances"

To show your support for the campaign to stop the closures, visit www.hackneylibdems.org/save_fernbank_hillside

Learn more at www.savefernbankandhillside.com