BY TOBY PORTER
Five children’s centres will close, with the loss of up to 50 jobs and hundreds of places, under town hall plans to save more than £1.4million.
Lambeth council is cutting the number of bases for activities for the under-fives from the current 23, down to 11 core full-time centres and seven “link” centres, which will not have a full timetable.
The centres targeted for the axe are Coin Street in Stamford Street, Waterloo, Heathbrook in Smedley Street, Stockwell, Lark Hall in St Rule Street, Battersea, Weir Link in Weir Road, Clapham and Sunnyhill in Harborough Road, Streatham Closure of the 11-year-old Coin Street Family and Children’s Centre, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, would save £124,745 a year.
Up to £95,517 of that cut is staff costs – but Coin Street contributes about £98,000 of its own cash every year to helping an estimated 753 families, funded from renting out sites the organisation owns in the area.
From September 2019 its parents will have to travel instead to Ethelred Children’s Centre, in Gundulf Street, Kennington – a 23-minute walk away.
David Hopkins, Coin Street’s director of community, said: “We believe in giving families and children the best start in life, to support them to be happy, healthy and resilient to life’s challenges.
The proposed cuts will hit our Lambeth families and children hard and are likely to have a significant impact in the longer term, particularly to vulnerable families and those most at risk.
“Experience tells us that families, especially vulnerable families, access services where they feel safe and where they have built relationships and trust with an organisation and members of the team there.
Our families regularly tell us how at home they feel at the neighbourhood centre. If they have to travel somewhere new, we are concerned they will just fall through the net.
“Residents at this end of the borough often lose out on funding because there is a perception that it is all bankers and brokers up here.
We work with families on local estates struggling to make ends meet every day and they need help on the doorstep as much as families do in Brixton and Stockwell.
“We are unusual amongst children’s centres in Lambeth in that we are not a school-led provision and we offer services for families with babies and continue to work with them until they are young adults.
Activities at Coin Street family and children’s centre do not stop at five years and/or 5pm on a Friday. We run activities across the weekend and during school holidays.
“There is a high level of deprivation at this end of the borough. Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB) invests income generated from its commercial businesses into over 80 hours of free and affordable programmes and activities every week for families, children, young people, adults and older people.
“We believe our centre provides strong value for money as a partner to Lambeth council.
We have consistently increased the amount we invest as an organisation in children’s centre provision year on year as local authority funding has diminished.”
Since 2010/11 Lambeth funding to CSCB has reduced by over 60 per cent. But CSCB has filled the shortfall with its own funds.
Coin Street also runs Dads and Male Carers provision, an under-20s antenatal group and Saturday LGBT Group, which attract parents and families from Brixton, Stockwell and Streatham.
It also has mentoring and leadership programmes for teenagers, two youth clubs with sports coaching, music production, trips, games, cooking and crafts.
Mr Hopkins said: “We hope we and our families will be able to convince Lambeth to review their proposals to ensure we are able to continue to provide families and children – including those most at risk – with the best start in life.”
One Streatham mother, Becky Crocker, said: “The last round of cuts to children’s centres have meant that, since giving birth to my child, I have barely been able to access services, leaving me struggling to cope and isolated.
“Recently, it has reached breaking point, and I have had to take time of work due to stress.”
Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children and Young People said: “We are proud to have an excellent network of 23 children’s centres in Lambeth and proud that we have kept these vital services for Lambeth families despite eight years of cuts from the Tory government.
“But recent government cuts and changes to grant funding mean we have a £1.4 million budget gap for children’s centres. So we’re consulting on proposals to reorganise our centres.
Our proposals protect 18 children’s centres and will continue to provide excellent services in the borough for young children.
“Unfortunately, the funding challenge does mean withdrawing funding from five centres. This is a tough decision but one we have made based on centre’s location and accessibility to them for most parents, the number of Lambeth children who use each centre and ensuring that we continue to provide services that support the families who are in the greatest need.
“As was clear in the consultation documents, we are working with our children’s centres in each part of the borough to arrange consultation meetings in centres at times when parents can attend.
And the council worked with centre managers and head teachers to ensure that staff were informed about the proposals before they became public and we are consulting them on them”.
There are currently no proposals from Southwark council to withdraw children’s centre funding to Coin Street Family and Children’s Centre.