Sunday, 22 October 2017

Mothers lead demo against axe threat to children’s centres

TWO mothers from Henley led a demonstration in Oxford against the threatened closure of children’s centres.

TWO mothers from Henley led a demonstration in Oxford against the threatened closure of children’s centres.

Emma Taylor and Banny Hay also handed over a petition with more than 15,000 signatures to Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth.

As they did so, more than 100 campaigners sang protest songs to the tune of nursery rhymes outside County Hall.

The Rainbow Children’s Centres, based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, as well as the Chalgrove and Watlington Children’s Centre are among 44 across Oxfordshire that could be shut because of budget cuts by the county council.

The Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres campaign has collected 15,709 signatures on the petition.

Mrs Taylor, who has been taking her four-year-old daughter Lilia to the Henley centre since it opened in 2010, gathered more than 1,000 signatures from Henley alongside Mrs Hay.

She told Councillor Hudspeth to “make sure you listen to us” as she handed over the petition. Mrs Taylor, 38, of Western Avenue, Henley, said: “The children’s centres are so much more than a place to play. They offer a multi- agency, one-stop-shop where parents with young children can access help and support.”

Councillor Melinda Tilley, who chairs the working group that is reviewing the future of the centres, said it was the best protest she had seen at County Hall.

Mrs Taylor said she was “heartened” that two key councillors had made the effort to witness the protest, adding: “We hope it is an indication that they have listened to the strength of feeling on this issue. If so, it is a victory for all the people who have signed the petition and joined demos and protests.

“We are especially pleased that Henley gathered so many signatures — beaten only by Banbury and Chipping Norton, which are bigger towns.”

The county council will announce today (Friday) its budget proposals and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.

Mrs Taylor added: “We will only be happy if all the county’s children’s centres are saved and are also not required to make huge savings as most are already operating on a shoestring.”

Mrs Hay, 43, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, led the shout-outs at the demonstration.

She said: “There was an enormous turnout and we were saying ‘three cheers for the children’s centres in Oxfordshire staying open’ as well as ‘three cheers for Ian Hudspeth and Melinda Tilley being present’. There was a great atmosphere — people were singing and holding big, hand-made placards.”

Mrs Hay, who takes her son Caspar to the Henley centre, said the campaigners recognised the council hadbeen placed in an “impossible” position by cuts in its government grant.

She said: “It wasn’t about us against them, it was about us all wanting the same thing, which is for Oxfordshire to be a community. There were a lot of fathers there who are concerned about the future of their children and rural families concerned about isolation.”

Meanwhile, Henley councillors have come out in support of the campaigners.

Speaking at a meeting of the town council’s town and community committee, Councillor Will Hamilton said: “We must do everything we can to ensure the children’s centre in Henley remains open.”

Councillor Dieter Hinke said: “I’ve been around it many times and was impressed with how the children are cared for. I totally support the centre staying open and Oxfordshire County Council should ringfence these places from budget cuts.”

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said he supported the centre but stressed that no budget decisions had yet been taken.

He said: “I went round the children’s centre yesterday and what I saw was a vibrant and thriving centre. I’m happy to sign a petition to keep Henley open but we can’t decide until we know the funding.”

The issue will be discussed by the full council on December 17.

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