SUPPORT is growing for a campaign to save three children’s centres.
Parents are organising a demonstration in Henley town centre next week and are promoting a protest petition.
The Rainbow Children’s Centres, based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, and 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 centres offers families with support, advice and activities for children from birth to age five.
Last week, Emma Taylor started a campaign to keep the centres open. She takes her four-year-old daughter Lilia to the Henley centre, where she is a volunteer.
Now she had been joined by Banny Hay, whose 20-month-old son Caspar goes to the centre three times a week.
Mrs Hay, 43, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, is organising the demonstration called The Kids Ain’t Doing Alright in Market Place at 3pm on Tuesday. It will include youngsters singing nursery rhymes accompanied by guitarist Jean Oliver.
She will follow this up on three days next month when she will have a stall to collect signatures on the petition, which is county-wide and already has more than 1,100 signatures.
Mrs Hay said: “This is not something that just affects mothers but the whole community because children are the future but they don’t have a voice. If we don’t safeguard their interests and make sure they are given adequate resources, then we’re not safeguarding the future of our community.”
Mrs Hay, a part-time lawyer, grew up in Henley but moved away to go to university before returning in July with her husband Nicholas and Caspar.
She said: “Many people relocate to Henley because it’s a great place to raise children and a key lynchpin is the children’s centre, which has fantastic resources and incredible staff. There are no other free groups for children where you have experienced staff who can give advice and support. It’s head and shoulders above any children’s centre that I ever visited in London.
“You get an amazing ethnic and cultural mix of people. As a ‘newcomer’ back in the town, everyone I’ve met and made friends with has been through going to the centre.It’s well-known that children’s personalities are formed between the ages of zero and three. Having a stimulating environment where they can socialise with other children while still in the care of their parent or carer is essential.
“It’s very important for parents not to be isolated from their children and have a warm, clean and safe place where they can get help and their children can develop relationships. If we want our children to grow up to become responsible adults in their community we have to act now.”
The council’s budget proposals will be published in December and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.
Mrs Taylor, 38, of Western Avenue, Henley, said: “We might yet head this whole thing off at the pass before the council makes it a proposal. We’ve got until the middle of December to try to make it not an option at all.
“Everyone has been so vocal about it and it’s something people feel very strongly about. I’ve talked to people in the town and they say how great the children’s centre was for them and they don’t know how they would cope without it.
“People would be devastated to lose this facility. They are joining together to shout about it and it’s having an impact on the council, which didn’t realise there would be such a strong feeling about this.
“We just need to keep up the pressure, particularly for Henley and Sonning Common.”
Mrs Taylor, a former journalist, said the Henley centre could be one of the most vulnerable because the town is seen as being prosperous but she says there are plenty of families who need it.
“It’s important people in Henley get involved by going to meetings or just spreading the word because we don’t want to lose our centre,” she said. “We’re fighting on the point of principle but this is where we live and we don’t want to see our two centres close.”
The council says it is “likely” to propose the closure of a number of children’s centres but no decisions have been taken about how many or which would close.
A spokesman said: “There are new financial realities facing Oxfordshire and local government and in those circumstances we want to ensure services are targeted at those in greatest need. We are therefore looking at a real change of focus and emphasis for children’s centres looking to the future.”
Anyone wanting to get involved in the campaign can contact Mrs Hay by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
A STALL with the petition will be in Henley market place on November 2, 9 and 23 from 10am to 6pm. It will also be available in a number of shops and cafés including Bagatelle Toys, Hot Gossip, Caffè Nero, Costa, Starbucks, Gorvett & Stone and BodyWise from tomorrow until November 25. The campaign has a Facebook group called SOCC — Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres which has 340 members and includes links to the online petition. People can also give their views at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/talkingoxfordshire