Children’s centres consultation comes under fire

Jane Basham and Angela Wiltshire

Jane Basham and Angela Wiltshire - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council has been accused of “treating local people with contempt” over the consultation on children’s centres.

The county council is preparing to decide the future of children’s centres across the county, including Brett River Centre in Hadleigh and Woodlands in Glemsford.

The authority is proposing to merge Brett River with Cherry Blossom in East Bergholt - six miles away - and Woodlands with the Phoenix Centre in Sudbury, some nine miles further.

Jane Basham, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate, said: “Local people have been treated with contempt throughout this whole process.

“The council has relied on a website and a few other organisations but failed to reach out to those for whom these services matter.

“Children’s centres are about so much more than play and children’s activities - they help turn young lives around - yet that’s the only focus of the consultation.”

She said the “so-called consultation” was not about what is best for children, or investment in their long-term future, but short-term opportunities to get rid of buildings.

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Hadleigh mother-of-two, Daisy Anna Lees, who set up Save Suffolk Children’s Centres, said: “This consultation has been a farce from start to finish. Most of it took place during school holidays and the council has failed to reach out to parents like me who no longer use the children’s centre but for whom it provided a lifeline when my children were younger. I only found out about the closure plans through local campaigners.”

Angela Wiltshire, a Hadleigh resident who started the on-line petition against closures, said: “Expecting parents of those most vulnerable - often without access to decent transport - to travel nine more miles is equivalent to abandoning them.”

Glemsford mother-of-three, Lorna Eves, said: “I moved to Glemsford from Ipswich with nothing. The children’s centre put me in touch with health visitors and stopped me feeling so isolated in the village. It even encouraged me to train to become a ‘community parent’.”

Councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: “The work of children centre staff has a positive impact on the lives of children and I know that families rely on the services, that is why I am committed to safeguarding them for the future.

“We do not have unlimited resources so we have always made sure that available funding is used in ways that have the greatest impact for children and their families - that is why we have consulted them on what we are proposing for the future.”

He said they wanted to increase children centre staff carrying out work with families in their own homes and wanted to make better use of other community facilities so a range of services could be accessed under one roof.

“Overall, families would not be required to travel further as activities will remain in the same local area served by the children’s centre,” he said.

He said the consultation, which finished this month, received more than 1,000 responses, adding information was shared in a number of ways and in different languages and formats to encourage people to get involved.