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Parents welcome children's centres rethink, but fresh fears raised

PUBLISHED: 17:55 15 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:52 16 January 2019

Amber Rout, who campaigned against the closure of the centres, and her daughter Saffron. Picture: Amber Rout

Amber Rout, who campaigned against the closure of the centres, and her daughter Saffron. Picture: Amber Rout

Archant

Parents have welcomed a rethink over children's centres which would see more of them survive, but anger still surrounds Norfolk County Council's proposals to shut 38 of the 53.

Stuart Dark, Conservative chairman of the county council's children's services committee.  Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Stuart Dark, Conservative chairman of the county council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Council leaders announced that, following consultation, their proposals would now see 15 centres survive under their new model for its early childhood and family service.

The council had initially proposed keeping seven open as bases for outreach work, but has said it has increased that number following consultation, which saw 1,600 people respond.

For some parents, that news was welcome, with the centres they have used now potentially staying open under the revised proposals

Amber Rout, a single mum from Thetford who had spoken out about the closures, said she was pleased the Kingsway could be retained, but said the revised proposals felt like a token gesture.

She said: “I don’t think they have done enough. Keeping a few open seems like a token gesture and keeping a few that they view as essential is one thing, but in my view they are all essential.

“Everyone is trying to cut money where they can but in regards to how homelessness is, how poverty is, and how people are struggling on Universal Credit, I don’t think they are looking at the right places.”

Mrs Rout was 15 when she had her daughter, Saffron, and lived off cornflakes as she struggled to survive on her own, using the children’s centres as a refuge.

She added: “It shows how they are needed and there are a lot of people who make use of them and people who will use them in the future.

“I do understand cuts if they are not being used, but if they are being used I think it is really short sighted and not looking into the future.”

Stuart Dark, who chairs the council’s children’s services committee, said people needed to stop thinking about the service in terms of the buildings, with outreach work in the community and in people’s homes the way forward.

But Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis raised the issue in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

He said: “It is clear that the people of my city do not want their children’s centres to shut. It is beyond doubt that to close so many will cause great harm to parents and children in Norfolk.”

‘I don’t know why they would close it’

While some parents are celebrating a potential reprieve for their children’s centres, three which were not previously at risk could now be axed.

Those ones are in Holt, Terrington St Clement and Attleborough, although the council says the Attleborough one will become a multi-function hub.

Mark Wilson, 51, founder member of the Terrington Community Fund who, in 2012 raised more than £5,000 to build a sensory room at the centre, said he could not understand why it was under threat.

He said: “It’s a meeting point for all the mums in the village. It’s in walking distance, central to the village and near to the doctor’s surgery. I don’t know why they would close it in a village the size of Terrington.

Holt town mayor Maggie Prior said: “We need to keep all the facilities we have in Holt, and more. It helps young parents and children in Holt, and would be a terrible shame to lose it.”

‘It’s really good when you’re a new mum and don’t know anyone’

The updated proposals mean Diss Children’s Centre, which had been earmarked for closure, could now remain open.

Mother-of-three Laura Montgomerie, 35, of Victory Court, said: “I suffered with paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea after my second child and the support I got from my local children’s centre was incredible.

“For this asset to be lost would have been devastating among mums and young families in the town.

“For some it is a lifeline. It’s sad that so many are closing across the county but I’m pleased that there are going to be a few more remaining that people can access.”

Mother-of-three Lizzie Skulski, 34, of Viscount Close, said: “When we fist moved to Diss I didn’t know anyone and someone actually came and picked me up and took me to the centre so I knew where it was.

“I think it’s really good when you’re a new mum and don’t know anyone.”

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