Campaign to save Luton's children's centres steps into gear with 1,400 signatures on online petition

The campaign to save Luton's children centres from closure is stepping into gear - with over 1,400 signatures on an online petition.

Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 9:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 9:20 pm

Over 500 people have joined the Facebook group 'Save Luton's children's centres' (here) in protest over the council's planned £3.5m cuts to children's services.

The cuts follow the emergency budget approved by councillors on July 14, which will see £22.5m cuts to services overall in the town.

But the petition organised by campaigners (here) is gathering support against these proposals.

The campaign to save Luton's children's centres is stepping into gear

Kelly Ann McCarthy is one of the parents campaigning to keep Luton's children's centres open.

She said: "I've heavily used children's centres over a period of 12 years.

"I used them when I was a 20-year-old single mum and I also served on the Mall’s parent committee for some time.

"My youngest child is aged only 19 months. Up until lockdown, we used the services regularly. My husband has also used the centres when my maternity leave ended and used to take our daughter.

"I had quite bad post-natal depression and these services were quite literally a lifeline for me."

The council plans to close the following children’s centres:

> Flying Start Central Children’s Centres, located at Denbigh Infants School and Stopsley Baptist Church;

> Flying Start North Children’s Centres, at Limbury Community Centre, Redgrave Gardens and Gill Blowers Nursery, Leabank;

> Flying Start South Children’s Centres, at Park Town, Whipperley and The Mall;

> Flying Start West Children’s Centres, located at Dallow, Pastures Way Nursery, Foxdell, Beechwood, Mossdale Court, Leagrave and Chaul End Community Centre.

Universal services such as ‘stay and play’ at children’s centres would also be phased out from February 2021 and would cease altogether within two months.

The council has launched a consultation (see here) asking parents, staff and members of the public for their feedback on the proposed changes.

But the campaign group has criticised the consultation process, with fewer Zoom meetings organised by the council in comparison to those for the 2040 Vision consultation.

Ms McCarthy added: "There will be many families who will not be able to access the public consultation as they don’t have internet or can’t understand the process.

"Not everyone is able to use Zoom or again, has access to it. So how will they reach everyone and consult them?

"Losing the centres would be the wrong approach to take. In addition, the Sure Start children’s centres are a Labour initiative so I am shocked that our council is even considering closing centres as they know the benefits."

The campaign group is being supported by the national Save Our Children’s Centres campaign.

Jess Parkins, also a parent and campaigner, added: "The children’s centres are the hub of so many communities and offer a non-judgemental and safe space for all the family.

"Children are the future of our town and we should be investing in them, not taking these vital services away.

"Our campaign message is clear, we do not want our Flying Start Children’s Centres to be closed. We are devastated that the council is even considering cutting funds from the children’s centres budget."

A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: "Due to the catastrophic impact that Covid-19 has had on the council’s commercial income, which we rely heavily on to fund our services, we have been left with no choice but to make drastic cuts right across the organisation.

"All council services are affected by this and this very sadly includes the services we provide in children’s centres in Luton.

"It is with a very heavy heart that we are conducting this children’s centre consultation in which the feedback we get back will directly shape how we can best deliver children’s centre services on a much reduced budget.

"The consultation itself adheres to legal and ethical consultation principles which ensure that users of the centres and the wider public can shape the final decision that will be made. In addition to the online survey being heavily promoted across the town for people to complete, we will shortly be announcing two additional events in September, making four events in total, to ensure we can hear as many views as possible."