A recent protest outside Fernbank children’s centre. Photograph: Moira Gil Perez

The proposed closure of two children’s centres by Hackney Council has been paused following intense campaigning from local families.

Children and their parents staged a protest outside the Town Hall last month to save Fernbank and Hillside in north Hackney from closure.

They were still leafleting last night as the deadline for a consultation loomed, boosted by a recent visit from local MP Diane Abbott, who gave the campaign her backing.

The decision to pause the plans, announced today, means the centres will not close in September 2022.

The council said it will delay any closures until it holds a wider review of its provision for early years children next year. It also pledged to stage “broader public engagement”.

The council’s consultation on the plans, which it said would save £1m, were criticised by parents, who said there was just one multiple choice question about the proposed closure of the two centres.

Campaigner Lizzie Kenyon said previously: “This process has been really stressful. We’ve been scrabbling about to find information.”

Nearly 900 people responded to the consultation, which closed last night, and whilst the details have not been released, it is thought the majority were against the closures.

Local MP Diane Abbott visited campaigners this week. Photograph: Save Fernbank

The council said demand for the centres had dropped, due in part to families moving out of the borough, the Brexit effect and also Covid.

Mayor Philip Glanville told last month’s full council: “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.”

Earlier this week Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott visited Fernbank and told families she would again raise her concerns with Mayor Glanville, a fellow Labour politician.

Parents from the Save Hillside Nursery campaign said: “Children’s centres are not just critical to the health and wellbeing of our youngest residents but to the community and society as a whole.”

Others have praised both centres and said their children have flourished.

One mother, whose child goes to Fernbank, said: “It’s got a lovely atmosphere.”

Another, Natalie Aguilera, paid tribute to the “staff’s warmth, professionalism and commitment”.

Hackney Council said it spends £542 per child under the age of five who goes to the children’s centres, compared with a London average of £124 per child, and said it has one of the highest numbers of centres in any borough in the capital.

It pointed out that a review will have to look at how it meets its duty to make sure there are enough childcare places for working parents, how it offers child and family support at its centres, and at the impact of falling numbers of children accessing childcare and early education.

Families rallied outside Hackney Town Hall last month. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Cllr Caroline Woodley,  cabinet member for families, early years, parks and play, said: “We’d never choose to stop this provision if we could help it, and we are proud of it.

“These proposals were designed to protect our wider service in the face of huge financial challenges and ensure we can carry on delivering excellent services to the families who really need it.”

The mayor and Cllr Woodley met with families to hear their views.

She said: “We know there is a huge strength of feeling on this issue, so rather than continue with this process now, we want to take more time to engage with everyone about how we provide services to this community and more widely across Hackney.”

However, she warned that there are still tough decisions to be made, adding: “We must be really clear that this pause doesn’t change the reality that there isn’t enough money to continue with our current provision as it is, and we will face very difficult decisions about reducing and reshaping services in the years ahead. “

She pledged that any future proposals will look at how services are used and how they can be “shaped with a clear focus on how we can achieve the best outcomes for Hackney’s children”.

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