Saturday, 28 November 2020

Protest at threat to children’s centres

FAMILIES sang nursery rhymes in a demonstration against the threatened closure of two children’s centres.

FAMILIES sang nursery rhymes in a demonstration against the threatened closure of two children’s centres.

About 50 parents and children gathered in Henley market place on Tuesday to voice their support for the Rainbow Children’s Centres, based at the d:two centre in Henley and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common.

The centres, which offer families support, advice and activities for children from birth to five, are under threat from multi-million pound cuts by Oxfordshire County Council.

The demonstration, which was called The Kids Ain’t Doing Alright, was organised by mothers Emma Taylor and Banny Hay.

The protestors waved hand-made signs bearing slogans such as “Every child still matters”, “We love the children’s centres” and “Hands off our children’s centres”.

They then joined in with Mrs Taylor and guitarist Jean Oliver singing nursery rhymes, including Ring a Ring o’ Roses and Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

More than 70 people signed a petition, which will be added to one for Oxfordshire which already has more than 6,000 signatures.

Mrs Taylor, whose four-year-old daughter Lilia has been going to the Henley centre since it opened in 2010, said the demonstration was to show how important the centre was to mothers and children and raise awareness of their campaign.

“Hopefully it gets the word out to people who are perhaps not mums but are just wandering through the town,” she said.

“We also wanted the mums to feel really involved because it’s their campaign and their children’s centre.

“This isn’t about one person or a couple of people fighting this, we need to all fight together.

“We wanted to make it fun, partly to show how important the children are but also to draw people in and get them asking questions about what we’re doing.”

Mrs Taylor, 38, of Western Avenue, Henley, said the centres were “absolutely vital” — she volunteers at the Henley one.

She said: “They’re particularly vital for people living in villages who might not have so many services available to them.

“People can go to them to get health advice and meet other mums and the children can socialise.

“They run so many different sessions, including ones for special needs children and on midwifery. Everything is there in one place.”

Mrs Hay, 43, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, said a wide range of people used the centres and they were often full.

She said: “The children are the future of the community. It’s not just about the mums wanting somewhere to go for messy play, they’re concerned about their children’s development.

“The wrong question is how can we save money — the right question is how can we ensure that we give our children the best start in life and that’s by giving them an excellent early education. The children’s centres should be kept open no matter what.”

Protestor Judith Wright, of Shiplake Bottom, Peppard, takes her one-year-old son Freddie to the Sonning Common centre.

She said: “I started using it just before Freddie was born for antenatal classes and then when he was born it was absolutely vital.

“It’s somewhere to go and talk to people who understand. Otherwise you’re on your own at home not knowing what you’re doing. The support there is absolutely fantastic.

“It has definitely helped me — I feel much more part of where I live and I’m keen to take part in what’s around me because of the centre.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve had a child you go through so many of the same experiences and it’s great to have people who you can talk to there.”

Amy Betts, from Sonning Common, takes her two-year-old son Archie to the centre and the one in Henley.

She said: “It gets me out of the house every day and has been a big thing for me. Without it, I would be stuck in the house a lot more and Archie would get bored.

“Anyone can go there and no one judges you. You walk in and it’s really welcoming.”

Watlington children’s centre is also among the 44 across Oxfordshire that could be shut.

The county council says it is “likely” to propose the closure of a number of centres but no decisions have been made about how many or which.

Its budget proposals will be published in December and the cabinet will make its recommendations to the full council for a final decision in February.

David Nimmo Smith, who represents Henley on the county council, attended the demonstration.

He said he would like to see the centres remain open but the council had to make “harsh” decisions due to cuts in government funding.

“It’s a question of providing the service in a different way,” he said. “The disenfranchised and those who are really vulnerable will still be protected.

“It’s a question of how you actually allow a service to be provided to those who are not quite so vulnerable but still need a service.

“It may well be that the community has to buy into it or the people who use the service have to pay for it or something like that.

“We haven’t worked out all the mechanics yet, all we know at the moment is that there’s less money available to provide the service.”

The headteacher of Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common is supporting the campaigners.

Daniel Sadler said the Rainbow centre based at his school was “very important” for local families.

“It’s very well-used and valued by a lot of parents and families,” he said. “Our students do volunteering in there and it’s a positive thing having young families on the school site.”

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