Parents stage a demo outside Fernbank children’s centre. Photograph: Moira Gil Perez

Parents say it would be “devastating” if plans to close two children’s centres go ahead – as they prepare to take their rescue mission to the Town Hall.

The group will stage a protest outside next week’s full council meeting (20 October).

It comes as the council consults on proposals to close Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres to save £1m.

One mother said: “[The centres] have been a lifeline for me. I had postnatal depression and they helped. It would be quite devastating if they were to close.”

She added: “Covid has had a drastic effect but we are at the centre of it. It’s poor folks who are being hit everywhere. We need childcare.

“This is going to be a real burden on a lot of people. What about the impact of the children being moved elsewhere?

“Throughout the pandemic the staff have been wonderful. That’s what we need – dedicated childcare providers.”

Parents say the closures would result in a loss of 109 affordable childcare places – with 68 at Fernbank in Fountayne Road and another 41 at Hillside in Leatherside Close. They are also concerned about potential job losses at both centres.

Natalie Aguilera said: “The warmth, the professionalism and the commitment to our children who will be safe and blossom there is incredible. Parents have nothing but praise for the staff.

“The staff have been there for years and years, they are so experienced. The centres are doing good work.”

She said parents will struggle to find alternatives and are in limbo as they do not know what the outcome will be and are fearful they may not get another affordable place.

Rates at Fernbank vary depending on household income.

One parent told the Citizen she would be happy to pay more if it kept the centres open.

Aguilera warned: “If women drop out [of work] because they can’t afford it, they do not come back.”

Another parent praised the staff and the progress his daughter has made at Fernbank.

He said: “Her development since she’s been there is incredible, the vocabulary, the words she can use and the songs she is able to sing. She would not get that anywhere else.”

He said it is hard to find affordable childcare places in Hackney.

“We signed up to the waiting lists of 10 centres and Fernbank was the only one that had a place for our child.”

He said parents are reporting huge waiting lists.

It took time for his child to settle into her place in nursery and he was hoping she would stay there until she starts school, rather than being uprooted.

The council’s consultation closes on 16 November and the centres could shut in August 2022 if the proposal is approved.

The Town Hall’s head of early years Donna Thomas told the children and young people’s scrutiny committee: “If we had any other way [of making savings], we would not put it on the table.”

She said there are four other children’s centres within 10 minutes’ walk of each other, with five in a cluster, and that parents use stay-and-play drop-in sessions at other centres.

She added that during the pandemic the way parents use nurseries has changed, with fewer people using them from 7am to 7pm.

She said “there is a transition taking place” which predated the pandemic because families have also moved out of the borough.

Cllr Caroline Woodley, who has responsibility for families, early years and play, said: “This is not a situation that any of us would want to be in.”

“It is distressing,” she added.

Cllr Woodley said the housing crisis, the pandemic and Brexit had all impacted on the demand for places.

The council’s consultation document explains: “We have 20 children’s centres across the borough. There is currently a 23 per cent childcare vacancy rate across the borough, which reflects a London-wide trend of falling reception class rolls.

“This means some children’s centres are no longer viable in the current financial climate. We now must ensure that we are doing the best we can, with the resources available, and continue to support Hackney’s children to achieve the best possible start in life.”

Last year, parents with nursery places at Millfields children’s centre on Elmcroft Street were told the places would go at the the start of the school year.

You can find the council’s consultation, which closes on 16 November, here

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