Mums lay into plans for shutting centres
5:00am Tuesday 29th July 2014 in By Mike Benke, @Michael_Benke
MUMS who use Swindon’s threatened children’s centres have spoken about their fears for the future.
Today sees the launch of a two month public consultation into the future of the children’s centres.
Earlier this month it was revealed the council is considering closing seven centres in a bid to save almost £800,000.
A consultation aimed at those affected has been started to seek views on the closures, as well as seek opinions on plans to convert two of the sites into multi-generational centres at West Swindon and Abbey Meads.
The buildings at Robert Le Kyng and Highworth will be left empty so the council is looking for suggestions as to their future use.
However, mums have spoken out against the plans which they say will leave parents without support and risk storing up problems for the future.
Wendy Smart, 38, of Oakhurst, currently uses the Butterflies Children’s centre in Abbey Meads for her two daughters Abigail, two, and eight-week-old Clara.
She said: “The centre has been extremely helpful. In the past I have suffered from post natal depression and the centre was such an important source of support.
“I know a lot of other people who use it and would say the same thing. They are not just play groups where you can take your kids for an hour but somewhere that helps.
“There are trained professionals who work there who can spot a problem. This is a very short-sighted idea that will mean big issues are not spotted and pressure will be put on existing resources.”
Five of the children’s centres will not have their budget touched as they deal with the highest number of vulnerable children.
Lucy Thacker, 33, who lives in Swindon town centre, used Drove Road and Saltway children’s centres for her daughter Bethany, one, before she returned to work .
“I take issue with their definition of the word vulnerable,” she said.
“Swindon has a lot of people who moved here from outside the town for work and while they may have the pay check, they won’t have the support. For me, if there is not that support network, then the child is vulnerable.”
“My mum lives in Norwich so the children’s centres have been extremely useful for getting to know people, some of whom I still meet up with.”
Hayley Jackson, 33, of Old Town, used to attend the Croft centre before the building was closed last year.
She said: “I have asked where the new baby-weighing classes will go but have been told they won’t know until after the consultation.
“It seems they are making it up as they go along. The demand for those staying open will be huge and I think this, along with the difficulty of getting there, will put a lot of mums off.”
Politicians of all sides have urged people to take part in the consultation process.
Labour’s South Swindon parliamentary candidate Anne Snelgrove said: “It is very important that as many people as possible respond to the survey. It does not just have to be parents but grandparents and anyone else who relies on these services.
“I have heard already that there is a huge anxiety about the whole idea and what will be left if the centres close so we need them to send a message to the council.”
Councillor Fionuala Foley (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn), the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I would encourage people to come forward and contact us to give us their ideas. We want them to be imaginative and if they have time perhaps volunteer at the community centres.
“We have austerity and Swindon is not the only place doing this. Rather than close everything we are protecting the vulnerable.”
To take part in the consultation visit www.swindon.gov.uk.
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