Lambeth announces children’s centre plans

Plans to protect 18 of Lambeth’s children centres despite a significant reduction in government funding have been announced by Lambeth council. A report to the council’s Cabinet on Monday, April 15 details how recent government cuts and changes to grant funding means there is £1.4million less available to spend on the centres.

The council has consulted widely with residents so they have been able to have their say in directing the remaining money with more than 1,000 people responding to the consultation, both online and at events.

The council has worked to minimise the impact of the cuts by protecting services in the borough’s most deprived areas and the proposals will ensure 11 core centres and 7 link centres will continue to provide early years services to families. Five centres will have their funding withdrawn as the council seeks to manage the impact of government grant changes.

The council has also looked at the wide range of other services in Lambeth for children who are under four-years-old and their families when proposing where the savings would be made, in a bid to minimise the impacts. This includes creating better links to health services to support young children, and new early years hubs on our most deprived estates.

Word from the Cabinet

Councillor 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 almost nine years of cuts from the government.

“This is not a saving we want to make, but one we now have to make. The council’s proposals will ensure that Lambeth retains 18 children’s centres, the third most in London, and will ensure the borough continues to have a comprehensive early years’ service for our residents.

“We have consulted on proposals to change some centres; there have been meetings with parents and carers across the borough, and the council has listened to all the feedback from the consultation before finalising these proposals.

“In response to feedback via the consultation, the council proposes to keep the service at Sunnyhill Children’s Centre in Streatham.”

The council proposals will see children’s centres reorganised into six groups by area in the borough, with one centre being the lead for each area. The proposals come as the council has had to

save more than £230 million since 2010, with the need to another £38 million in savings over the next four years

The proposed centres are:

• Eleven core children’s centres offering a full programme of activities every morning and afternoon throughout the week. Services available will include health visiting services, stay and play, crèches, parenting support and adult learning activities such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.

• Seven link centres that will be open every morning or afternoon and offer a range of children’s centre activities, including stay and play sessions and support for parents and families.

• The 18 centres will be grouped into six cluster areas, and in each cluster area, there will be one lead provider responsible for delivering the services across the children’s centres. The lead provider will employ a team of staff including Better Start workers who will provide one to one support for families living in the area who need additional help.

For the five remaining centres, the council is working with schools and communities try and ensure that no building actually closes and that as many services as possible continue there, such as free childcare for eligible two-year-olds and free nursery places for three-year-olds. The council will run a further consultation, in the Streatham area, as a result of changes to the original proposals. As a result of Woodmansterne school no longer seeking to run children’s centre services and the feedback from families and councillors about Sunnyhill children’s centre, the council is now proposing to keep the service at Sunnyhill instead.

Coin Street family and children’s centre

Coin Street is one of five children’s centres in Lambeth to have vital funding cut. Of the outcome, Coin Street’s Director of Community, David Hopkins, says:

“Both parents and staff are devastated about Lambeth’s decision to pull the plug on their support for a local children’s centre for Waterloo families, after a proud 10-year history.

“Hundreds of families spoke up in defence of the life-changing work which goes on at Coin Street family and children’s centre during the consultation, and highlighted Coin Street as a vital community resource for their children as they grow into young adults.

“The decision means Waterloo parents will now be expected to travel to Kennington or Oval to access their nearest Lambeth children’s centres, which are already oversubscribed. There will no longer be a local Children’s Centre within pram-pushing distance, and inevitably children in our neighbourhood will be worse off in those crucial first five years of life.

“Our local MP Kate Hoey has pointed to the injustice of the situation, arguing that much more of the significant revenue Lambeth Council generates in Waterloo from development should stay in the area and be reinvested in vital facilities for the community such as Coin Street family and children’s centre.

“In the report which swung the axe on our children’s centre, Lambeth Council pledged to identify alternative sources of funding for children and families living in the Coin Street area. We hope these are not empty words and that council officers and councillors find a solution before September which keeps Coin Street open for Lambeth families” adds David.

Consultation feedback

The largest response to the consultation from across the Borough related to Coin Street. About Coin Street the report says:

The primary concern raised through comments submitted via the survey and within consultation meetings about proposals for the North Lambeth area was about proposed withdrawal of funding at Coin Street.

Coin Street children’s centre users and local stakeholders expressed concern about the withdrawal of services for Lambeth families, and the challenges of travelling to the nearest centre (Ethelred) to access services which were already oversubscribed. Over the 240 comments online around the withdrawal for funding for Coin Street 52% of these related to the need for local centres and accessibility and 49% praised the quality and variety of services offered. Around a quarter (27%) raised the impact closure would have on children and families while, 20% asked about other sources of funding. One in five (18%) asked us to keep all centres open.

In both the online consultation responses and in the consultation meeting held at Coin Street, current and previous children’s centres’ users spoke about the significant impact the centre had on their lives and those of the children in the early years and as they grew to adolescence.

There were strong views expressed that the children’s centre represented the only community resources available to children and families in the immediate area, and that it was a focal point in creating local community networks.

The fact that there is significant development happening in the north of the borough was raised, with questions as to how the council was investing the funding that it received as a result. Specific questions about the use of CIL funding arose in meetings with children’s centre users and with trustees.

Many respondents online and through the meeting felt that Coin Street or their local community was being unfairly targeted by the council under the proposals, and queried the relative proximity of Henry Fawcett and Ethelred Children’s centres. Concerns were also raised about proposals at Henry Fawcett, Ethelred and St Stephens. These concerns were typically the more generalised ones outlined above rather than in relation to those individual centres, which would all remain as core centres under these proposals. However, parents and children’s centre users responding did also express significant concern about the impact on families currently using Coin Street and the distance they would have to travel.

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