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Parents fight for nurseries facing axe

High Street protest as council chiefs consider closures amid falling numbers taking up places

05 March, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Parents marched down Camden High Street before protesting outside a full council meeting 

PARENTS and campaigners have made a direct plea to Camden’s ruling Labour group to spare four council-run nurseries facing closure.

In a deputation to Monday’s full council meeting, Hugo Pierre from Camden Unison said primary schools and nurseries could work together to help combat falling numbers of enrolments at both ages.

“The schools can work with nursery children so the children can end up going to the school,” he said. “That is absolutely essential. Let them work together and let’s ensure that school places in Camden can be filled.”

Parents at Kilburn Grange, Konstam in Highgate, Gospel Oak and Hampden in Somers Town have joined campaign groups to protest against the proposed closures.

They gathered outside the Crowndale Centre with placards before Monday’s meeting.

Mr Pierre said: “We know there is a problem with places in schools and not enough of our school places are being filled, so we are definitely in favour of nurseries and the schools working together.”

He added: “We are being told there is no money as well. Last year there was £2million unspent in this budget and £2m unspent the year before.”

The council announced cuts of £600,000 to its nursery budget and suggested reallocating the money to open drop-in services for parents of younger children with the creation of new “Sure Start” centres.

But parent Yami Manchanda-Corless, from the Gospel Oak nursery, said: “If the birthrate in Camden really has fallen then there wouldn’t be enough children to fill the Sure Start centres that are being proposed, so this really is just a money-saving exercise.

“Children are not freight, they cannot be moved like shipments and dumped from place to place.”

The campaign group had marched along Camden High Street before its deputation.

Liz Wheatley, branch secretary of Camden UNISON, said: “If they [the council] say they don’t have the money from central government funding, cut by about half in the last few years, they are going to have to campaign for it and fight for more funding from the Tories.”

Claudia Manchanda, a grandmother of a child at Gospel Oak Nursery and who herself went to the nursery 50 years ago, said: “When I was just a few weeks old my dad was sick and my mum went out to work as the breadwinner. I remember then the Gospel Oak staff were like a family as they are now.

“We say an absolute ‘no’ to these proposals. “The council has tried to swizz us, saying it is an investment. It is cruel to uproot children.”

A consultation survey closed on February 12 and a decision is expected to be made on April 1.

Education chief Councillor Angela Mason told the meeting: “I don’t think there is one solution for every nursery and what we are going to look at is finding solutions that do suit particular circumstances of the different nurseries.”

She added: “I have committed to the ‘as good’ proposal where nobody will have provision which isn’t as good as what they have had before. That is an absolute commitment.

“What this consultation was really about was whether we should set up four new Sure Start facilities. Sure Start is a range of services for parents and children which is a universal offer, but ­particularly directed to parents who may face particular disadvantages.

“That’s what we are really trying to achieve but not at the expense of parents having access to nursery places.”

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