Parents appeal for council-run nurseries to be saved from closure
Camden to shake-up provision
24 January, 2020 — By Helen Chapman
Parents at Hampden Nursery in Somers Town
PARENTS rallied in Somers Town on Tuesday morning in protest at council proposals to shut down their children’s nurseries.
The anger comes after a consultation survey was launched by Camden over the future of Hampden Nursery, Gospel Oak Nursery, Konstam Nursery in Highgate and Kilburn Grange.
All four could be closed down in a Town Hall shake-up.
Shabli Kadir, a parent at Hampden Nursery in Polygon Road, Somers Town, said: “It is quite a shock to hear of these plans. I had postnatal depression and even coming here for just three hours a day really helped. The staff are amazing. If I ever have concerns they listen. When parents drop off their children, the staff tell them to help themselves to tea and coffee in the staff room. Not a lot of places do that.”
Over 1,000 have signed a petition since last week calling for the Gospel Oak Nursery to be saved. Camden says the number of three- and four-year-olds in Camden has decreased by around 500 in the past three years, with some wards having seen a reduction of at least 20 per cent.
The council is also looking to make £600,000 worth of savings in their Early Years provision budget. In summer last year Hampden nursery had 26 children on its roll, down from 32 in 2018. It has the capacity for 40. A falling birth rate has also been blamed for the potential closure of Carlton Primary School, while St Aloysius School in Somers Town has already shut. But parents insist the nursery is more than the numbers.
Nasima Begum, another parent, said: “The nursery doesn’t only support the children, they support the parents too. I have one child and I am looking to get back into work but I don’t know how I will do that if this place closes. “The staff are amazing here. There’s one who I call Superstar Sandra – I think my daughter will be talking about her for the rest of her life. “I see the council as the big bad wolf. They need to put the money where it matters.”
The protest held at Hampden Nursery on Tuesday was organised by the UNISON union who are campaigning with parents in a bid to see the closures averted.
Rita Rahman, has two children aged five and three who no longer go to the nursery.
She said: “The staff have been here so long they are part of the furniture. My children are not here anymore but they still talk about the staff.”
Councillor Angela Mason, cabinet member for best start for children and families, said: “The council is consulting on proposals for our early years services to provide a greater focus on children’s crucial first 1,001 days of life [from birth to two years old]. Our proposed new approach would aim to narrow the gap of achievement and wellbeing between disadvantaged children and others in the borough. The proposed changes also aim to address the high level of vacancies in council and school nurseries and make better use of nurseries based in local primary schools, which would in turn help those schools to recruit more pupils.
She added: “The consultation, which runs until February 12, has been publicised on our website, via social media and email bulletins, as well as with printed publicity in nurseries and children’s centres. However, because the Gospel Oak Nursery meeting for parents took place early in the consultation we’ve arranged a further meeting for parents at that nursery on February 4.
“Our preferred option, as set out in the consultation, is not to close any of our early years buildings but for four of our council-run nurseries, including Gospel Oak Nursery, to become Sure Start children’s centres, offering a range of early years and family support services focused on children’s first 1001 days, including support for things like speech and language therapy.”
Meanwhile, Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq spoke in Parliament this week about councils underspending on their early years budget due to a lack of funding for special needs (SEN) provision. She said: “If money has been set aside to give children the best start in life then it should not be used to plug the gap in other parts of the budget.”
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson said: “These are matters for the local authority to decide how they allocate the funding to providers in their local authority area. “We have announced a £66million increase in funding for early years. I think that is a good settlement and is the first year before we come into the spending review period.”