Whitstable parents delivered a massive Unhappy Mother’s Day Card to Kent County Council today as its consultation proposing the closure services comes to an end. The card was full of messages from local parents explaining the impact that the closures would directly have on them but local KCC Member Mark Dance refused to read the notes and walk deliberately walk passed his constituents.
Labour Councillor Chris Cornell has been at the heart of the campaign to Save the Children’s Centres in Whitstable. In March the group have compiled a petition and throughout April they surveyed over 150 affected parents and grandparents, encouraging them to put ‘mothers before money’.
Kent County Council want to close the services based at Joy Lane & Swalecliffe Schools and shoe horn these services into the existing youth club which they will relaunch as a new ‘Family Hub’. Whilst the Kent County Council consultation suggests that this decision is largely being made to reduce maintenance costs, campaigners have highlighted that its proposal expects to save three times as much money will be saved in cuts to staff budgets than will be made by reducing utilities etc.
The new ‘family hub’ model is far from clear and as yet Kent County Council can’t confirm whether all of the existing services will remain in the town. The council have suggested that they are happy for parents to travel up to 30 minutes by public transport to centres in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Sturry.
A full copy of the group’s consultation response can be read here. However, in summary its survey shows that:
- 86% of people thought that the length of time they were expected to travel would affect their willingness to access a children’s centre. Presently over 60% of parents walked to their local service and 96% believed that services should remain on a local neighbourhood level
- 1 in 3 felt less confident accessing children’s services post COVID and that current utilisation figures didn’t reflect need. Parents described how services at Joy Lane felt like they were being ‘wound down’ in advance of this decision. In 2016 a parent using Joy Lane could expect over 26 hours of structured activity as part of the weekly programme, in February 2023 it provided less than 10.
- 99% of people believed children’s centres should remain free to all, with 1 in 3 believing existing groups were too expensive. The cost of public transport and car parking is a real worry if people are expected to travel further.
- 34% would be less willing to use a service if it were co-located with services for teenagers – highlighting the importance of dedicated spaces in making them feel safe.
The consultation response has specifically highlighted how many of the most deprived areas of Whitstable will also be those where parent’s find it hardest to travel to new services by bus. SureStart centres were initially located by a Labour government in areas of high deprivation and specifically at schools because the stigma of accessing them would be reduced.