Parents battling to save two children’s centres in Hackney slam ‘dishonest’ consultation

Families gathered at the Town Hall last week to protest the plans. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Parents fighting to save two Hackney children’s centres from closures have told politicians how “stressful” they have found it.

Fernbank and Hillside children’s centres for the under-fives could close to save £1m as part of changes to the council’s early years service.

The move would result in a loss of 109 affordable childcare places – with 68 at Fernbank on Fountayne Road and another 41 at Hillside on Leatherhead Close along with up to 35 jobs.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville told last month’s full council meeting that it would not make this difficult choice if it did not need to balance the books after a decade of austerity.

He said: “If we did not have to do this we wouldn’t. We have faced a decade of cuts, £140m taken out of our budget, some of the biggest cuts in London.”

He said there have been changes in demand in the borough, with more parents choosing private nurseries.

The Town Hall’s cabinet will make its decision in December.

However, parents told councillors who scrutinise children’s services that they were unhappy with the consultation, which ends on 16 November.

Parent Natalie Aguilera said there was just one multiple choice question about the proposed closures, with the option to respond either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

“All in all, this process has felt rushed and in all honesty it feels dishonest,” she said.

She explained that parents have been told there is no plan B apart from closing Fernbank and Hillside.

“This makes us really nervous that it is just a done deal.”

She added: “We feel that Hackney residents should have an opportunity to respond fully to something that will have such an impact on children in Hackney.”

She criticised the vacancy rate data the council used, which was for private nurseries as well as council-run facilities.

“Fernbank was 93 per cent [full]  in July – there have been no issues with vacancies there up until Covid.”

Another parent, Lizzie Kenyon, said: “We know that vulnerable and disadvantaged children are going to be impacted by these closures.”

She said that although the council had pointed out there are other children’s centres nearby, “those centres are not like for like”.

“We know children are coming from other areas,” she added.

Kenyon also criticised the consultation document, which she described as “shorter than the council’s consultation on  changes to parking in Hackney”.

She said: “This process  has been really stressful. We’ve been scrabbling about to find information.”

The parents spoke to the scrutiny committee, which is preparing its response to the consultation.

Another, Nick Yates, said: “No-one is saying there is too much affordable childcare in Hackney. That’s laughable for a council to say that.”

He told the committee: “The experience of parents putting their child down for 10 different places and two years later being told there are too many places – that doesn’t fit.”

He added: “The passion and commitment that staff have shown is just incredible.

“It’s such a fantastic place for our children to attend. They play nursery at home, ask when they can go again. The centres are just full of love.”

It comes as Brian Debus, the president of Hackney Trades Council, warned that unions and other campaigners “will have to stand candidates in next year’s local elections against those parties implementing budget cuts”.

He told the council: “There is an alternative, and that is to fight, as both the parents and staff have decided to do.”

A meeting is being held outside Fernbank Nursery on Thursday 4 November and the council is holding a public meeting on  Tuesday 9 November.