Shocked parents met over the weekend in a local park to plan a campaign to save a beloved Hackney children’s centre, following a shock announcement that daycare services would no longer be provided.
The decision to shut down the services from the start of the next school year at Millfields Children’s Centre is understood to have come as a blow to staff, with many reported to have been in tears when the news was announced on Friday.
Parents were told that a deficit at the centre had “materialised” over the past few years due to the use of agency staff, as well as non-specific staffing arrangements, “historic under-funding now addressed”, and childcare vacancies.
An open letter from parents read: “We do not accept or agree with this course of action and as a community of parents, families, and local people, it is our intention to prevent this and enable the centre to keep operating a daycare service for the benefit of all our children.
“We’d like to discuss the immediate wellbeing of the children that attend the centre in the coming weeks and months, taking into account the disastrous effect this situation has already had on staff morale and enthusiasm.
“Who is ultimately accountable, and what is the justification, for this proposed course of action?”
They called for “details on the ‘deficit’, vacancy management and long-term funding decisions”, adding: “The centre is a much loved and valued asset to the people of this borough and we are absolutely intent on ensuring it continues to provide excellent daycare to local families for many years to come.”
Parents went on to ask for more transparency on what alternatives were considered to the service cuts, including an increase in funding from the council, more support from parents and the community, vacancy-sharing with other centres or a renewed business strategy.
It is understood that the centre’s deficit continued to balloon despite the council working with the management team to address the problems.
The council did not respond to questions about the size of the deficit, or why no information was provided to parents, or the lack of a consultation to assess the impact of services being withdrawn.
Millfields has said that it will continue to provide ‘extended services’ at the centre, including music and movement, baby massage and weaning sessions.
Cllr Chris Kennedy (Lab, Hackney Wick), cabinet member for families, early years and play, said: “Governors of Millfields Community School have informed us of their intention to stop providing subsidised childcare commissioned by the council.
“We will be supporting families to find alternative local childcare that meets their needs, and we will continue to work with the school to maintain a programme of stay and play activities.
“These sessions are extremely popular so we, like the governing body, want children, parents and carers to continue to access these valuable services at Millfields.”
The council stressed that many of the 52 children at the centre will avoid being impacted due to starting reception or school nursery in September, though some parents are complaining that their children secured places at Millfields just weeks ago.
The campaign to save the centre’s services is now calling for more detailed information on how the decision came to be made, including demands for minutes of governors’ meetings, to be presented to them on Friday.
Millfields’ children will now receive priority for vacancies at Clapton Park, Comberton, Linden and other children’s centres, with coordination efforts being made by the council’s Family Information Service.
Childcare staff will be offered redeployment to vacant positions in Millfields, with a consultation to take place this month through meetings with all affected staff, union representatives, the headteacher and senior staff.
Headteacher Jane Betsworth and Millfields’ chair of governors Damian Holt said: “The decision to stop childcare provision was not taken lightly and, after many months of discussions between the Hackney Learning Trust and the governing body, we have concluded that the current format of the children’s centre is no longer financially viable or sustainable.
“Hackney Council is committed to supporting families who need to find alternative childcare at other local children’s centres or other nearby providers and will work with the centre manager and parents over coming weeks and months to broker alternative suitable provision.
“The centre, its staff, and families have been an important part of the Millfields School community and we are sad to see this chapter of the children’s centre come to an end.
“That said, we look forward to a future service where we can scale the potential impact to an even greater number of families, by further developing and enhancing the range of services for young children, parents, carers and families delivered at Millfields.”