Outcry forces council to shelve plans to close Stoke Newington childcare centres

Parents protesting the closure of Fernbank children’s centre. Pic: Moira Gil Perez

Controversial plans to close two children’s nurseries, Fernbank and Hillside, have been shelved by Hackney Council following an outcry from parents.

The u-turn follows a month-long campaign started by the parents who rely on the centres, both in Stoke Newington, for childcare for under 5’s. The campaign included a petition which had more than 1300 signatures calling on Mayor Phillip Glanville and Councillor Caroline Woodly, the cabinet member for families to keep the centres open and to show commitment to low income families.

The council said it would suspend the closures to allow more to time to consult about Early Years childrens services across the borough. However the council warned that economies were still needed.

The centres were set to be closed in September 2022, as part of an attempt to deal with the council’s budget deficit. Woodly said: “The mayor and I have listened to the concerns parents have raised and we know there is a huge strength of feeling on this issue, so rather than continue with this process now, we want to take more time to engage with everyone about how we provide services to this community and more widely across Hackney.”

The campaign received support from Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott, who visited the nurseries, which are in her constituency, on Monday. She tweeted:

The consultation on the closures ended earlier this week and received almost 900 responses. It included information on the council’s Early Years Strategy, which aimed to close the children’s centres and transform them into “children and family” hubs, offering family focused and tailored holistic support for young children.

However, parents disagreed with these plans and called on the council to consider the quality and affordability of the children’s centres and their impact on the community. Hackney Council argued that there had been fewer uptake of children within these centres.

Nick Yates, a parent of a child who attends Fernbank, said on BBC Radio 4’s programme You and Yours: “The vacancy figures used by the council are during Covid… they’re presenting statistics to suit their argument.”

Another parent, Natalie Aguilera, who is a spokesperson for the group and parent with a child at Fernbank Nursery said: “We as parents have not been given the opportunity to feed in fully – the consultation process is not fit for purpose – and it feels as if Hackney Council don’t want to listen to us, even though we are among those most impacted by the cuts.”

Farah Baldock, a parent whose son went to Fernbank Nursery said: “Fernbank is more than just a nursery to our family – it’s been a nurturing environment for our daughter, an invaluable support during the pandemic, and it offered us peace of mind that our daughter would be in a high quality, affordable childcare setting when I returned to full-time work.  Closing a service that has given so much to local families would be a devastating loss for the community.”

However Councillor Woodly warned: “We must be really clear that this pause doesn’t change the reality that there isn’t enough money to continue with our current provision as it is, and we will face very difficult decisions about reducing and reshaping services in the years ahead.”

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