Nine children’s centres will be axed in move to save Suffolk County Council £250,000
PUBLISHED: 17:14 20 January 2015 | UPDATED: 17:14 20 January 2015
Nine children’s centres in Suffolk look set to close despite mass opposition during public consultation, it can be revealed.
Suffolk County Council is proposing to press on with the moves, which will save the authority £250,000.
The centres affected are in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Reydon, Felixstowe, Glemsford, Thurston, Haverhill and Lowestoft.
However, some changes have been made to the original proposal, meaning there will be a shorter distance for some families to travel to replacement services.
Last night, Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee said he was confident the controversial decision would not compromise the quality of services provided.
The children’s centres offer a range of drop-in services to families and children, providing vital support, information, advice and activities.
Mr Bee said: “We have proved it with what we have done with the library service that if you can work in tune with a community and decide where things need to be rather than perhaps where they were placed for historic reasons, you create services which are actually much stronger and are going to be better used.
“We have every confidence that this review of the children’s centres can provide exactly the same as that.
“People don’t like change and don’t want to see something they see as being established changing, but it is down to us now to show that what is going to takeover is going to be better.”
Out of 154 professionals surveyed:
71.3% said the changes would have a negative impact on the service provided.
33.1% were in favour of the proposals.
Out of 854 families surveyed:
6.1% agreed with the proposals.
63.1% disagreed with the proposals.
20.6% would not use the service at all in the future if the proposals were adopted.
17.9% anticipate no change in the way they use the children’s centre service.
9.5% would use an alternative children’s centre.
41.5% have not used an alternative venue.
84.1% have used group activities, such as Baby Massage, or Messy Play.
More than 1,000 people were surveyed during a 12-week consultation on the proposals which ended in October last year.
Opposition figures in Labour vociferously campaigned against the closures, arguing they will damage the lives of vulnerable children. Labour’s Bryony Rudkin called for the review to be abandoned and for all children centre’s to remain open.
But yesterday Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: “A number of the buildings we currently use as children’s centres are simply no longer fit for purpose, require significant financial investment or are not located in the best place for the community.
“For example, at Thurston, why would you have a centre providing services for four-and-a-half hours a week when you are paying for 168 hours?
“At Reydon and Southwold, there is a brand new health centre. We will make use of that. It is 400 yards or so from the existing building, which is a tired one. It makes an awful lot of sense.”
The proposals are expected to be approved at a full cabinet meeting on Tuesday next week.
The changes will save around £250,000 in total between 2015 and 2018. The closures will take place from April onwards.
Meanwhile, 18 out of the current 48 children’s centres in Suffolk are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. Out of the nine children’s centres set to close, six ‘require improvement’.
Last night, Sandy Martin, leader of the county’s Labour Group, criticised Suffolk County Council’s budget for 2015/16, saying £6million will be cut from the support programme for older people, £5.1m will be cut from Children’s and Young People budget and £4.1m will be saved from Health And Social Care.
He said: “Unless we reverse some of the Tories’ cuts, the damage caused will cost the people of Suffolk far more than any money saved.”
Parents and carers voiced grave concerns about the possible closure of Woodlands Children’s Centre in Glemsford, near Sudbury.
They described the facility – which opened just four years ago and provides advice on everything from parenting to healthcare – as “an absolute godsend”.
According to a consultation document published on Suffolk County Council’s website last summer, the number of people using the Woodlands centre was around 20 per day with most families already accessing
services at other venues.
The county council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Gordon Jones, said at the time that the cost of running some of the centres was disproportionately high compared to the number of people using them.
But one concerned woman who looks after her five-year-old grandson, said the Glemsford centre had been a vital source of help. She added: “The village is quite isolated and doesn’t have a regular bus service. There are a lot of single mums and younger families in Glemsford and many don’t have transport.”
News that the Quayside Children’s Centre faces closure sparked outrage among parents and community leaders.
Campaigners said the facility, at Suffolk New College Campus, Ipswich, was extremely important for parents in the area and that the nearest alternative for them would be on the other side of town, or a long walk up Bishop’s Hill and Cliff Lane.
A protest urging for the centre, which caters for children up to pre-school age, to be saved was quickly organised and an online petition attracted more than 300 signatures.
Speaking at the protest in October, Shelly Darwin, whose daughter attends Quayside, said: “Closing the centre will mean children, parents, families and the community will lose out; our children deserve a centre that we are able to access.
“People are upset and angry about losing the centre that we love.”
Brett River Centre
Parents with children at the Brett River Children’s Centre in Hadleigh have said they were not properly consulted about possible changes to the service.
It was initially proposed that the centre, in the Old Corn Exchange, would merge with Cherry Blossom in East Bergholt, which is six miles away. However, the new proposal has services at the Hadleigh Pool and Leisure Community Centre Room.
Previously, Babergh district councillor Kathryn Grandon said she didn’t feel the council had spoken to “the right people” during a 12-week consultation on the future of the Suffolk’s centres.
She said: “I don’t think the right people were consulted.
“What they haven’t done is speak or listen to the people who use the centres.”
Labour parliamentary candidate for south Suffolk, Jane Basham, added: “I spoke with mums and carers from Hadleigh and surrounding villages on the last day of the council’s consultation who knew nothing about the proposed closure of Brett River Children’s Centre.”
Campaigners have questioned the decision to threaten Meredith Children’s Centre in Ipswich with closure.
The centre in Meredith Road opened in 2008 with 755 children aged under five living in the ‘reach’ area of Whitton.
Suffolk County Council says it costs around £30,000 every year to run, but last year Labour group leader Sandy Martin said: “Meredith Children’s Centre in Ipswich is not expensive per child to run, it is in exactly the right place to help those that need it most and there are 26 other centres that are less well attended that are not being closed.”
Labour councillor Steve Connelly, who represents Whitton, added: “There is a very, very strong feeling that it needs to stay open. It is one of the most deprived areas in Ipswich.”
The county council says “many families” who use the children’s centre already use other nearby children’s services.
The children’s centre was ranked as ‘satisfactory’ by Ofsted in November 2012. But the same score now – a three – would equate to ‘requires improvement’ following an Ofsted shake-up.
Full list of centres which are to close
Brett River Children’s Centre, Old Corn Exchange, Market Place, Hadleigh. Most services, such as ‘Baby Yoga’ and ‘Breastfeeding Workshops’, to be held at the Hadleigh Pool and Leisure Community Centre Room in Stonehouse Road.
Jigsaw Children’s Centre, Norton Road, Thurston. Services to be held at the New Green Community Centre in New Green Avenue, Thurston.
Meredith Children’s Centre, Meredith Road, Ipswich. Services, such as ‘Bookstart Corner’ and ‘Weigh and Play’, to be carried out at Wellington Children’s Centre in Chevallier Street and Bramford Lane Children’s Centre, as well as St Pancras Primary School, Whitton Sports Centre, Whitton Clinic and other locations.
On Track Children’s Centre, Strasbourg Square, Haverhill. Most services, such as ‘Breakfast Buddies’ and ‘Talking Tots’, to be held at Chalkstone Community Centre in Millfields Way, Haverhill.
Quayside Children’s Centre. Suffolk New College Campus, Ipswich. Most services, such as ‘Health Drop-ins’ and ‘Creative Play’, to be held at Holy Trinity Church in Back Hamlet, Bishops Hill, Ipswich. Reg Driver in Christchurch Park and Infobar in Constantine Road will also be used.
Reydon and Southwold Children’s Centre, The Firs, Jermyns Road, Reydon. Services, such as ‘Baby Massages’ and ‘0 to walk’ to be held at the New Health Centre in Reydon and Reydon Church Hall.
Roman Hill Children’s Centre, Love Road, Lowestoft. Services, such as ‘Story Time’ and ‘Outdoor Play’ to be held at The Ark Children’s Centre in Water Lane, Lowestoft, Village Rise Children’s Centre in Blyford Road, Lowestoft and Lowestoft Library.
Sea Breeze Children’s Centre, Beach Station Road, Felixstowe. Most services, such as ‘Weaning Workshops’ to be held at Langer Primary Academy in Langer Road, Felixstowe.
Children’s Centre Woodlands, Shepherds Lane, Glemsford. Most services, such as ‘Messy Play’, to be held at Glemsford Village Hall.