Tears over Kentish Town children’s centre closure

11:56 19 January 2011

Ruth Keppeler with five-month-old baby Colin, outside the Caversham Children

Ruth Keppeler with five-month-old baby Colin, outside the Caversham Children's Centre

Archant

A CHILDREN’S centre that offers vital help to working families in the heart of Kentish Town is set to close.

The Caversham Children’s Centre, in Caversham Road, will shut in August as part of a Camden Council plan to slash £3.2million from its budget for “early years” services.

Stunned parents were hit with the news when they dropped off their children on Monday morning – with many moved to tears as they faced up to uncertainties over their children’s future and how they will continue to work.

Father-of-two Rob Manuel, 37, of nearby Montpelier Grove, has used the centre for four years, and currently takes his 23-month-old son, Stanley, there. He said: “Having this place enables both me and my wife to work and without it I don’t know quite what we’re going to do.

“My wife came home in tears about it and she said the other parents were in tears too. I’m not that convinced there will be somewhere else for us to go. We briefly used a private nursery but it was twice as expensive and half as good.”

The centre caters for children aged six months to three-and-a-half years. A Camden Council spokeswoman said it was chosen out of the borough’s 17 children’s centres because it “does not meet any of the key criteria” – which included not having a special educational needs unit or a family support team base.

Ruth Keppeler, 37, a mother-of-two from nearby Leighton Road, who sends her two-year-old daughter Paula to the Caversham, said: “I was shocked and hugely disappointed when I heard. I was hoping my five-month-old son could go there soon, so I could go back to work.

“When I heard the news, I thought ‘What do we do with him now?’ I knew there would be cuts but I really didn’t think they would close down a children’s centre.”

A second centre, the Acol Children’s Centre in West Hampstead, will also be shut – while working parents have already been hit by plans to withdraw all funding from breakfast and after school clubs.

Council chiefs are pushing through a wide-ranging programme of cuts in an effort to close a budget shortfall of between £80million to £100million over the three years to 2013/2014.

Councillor Heather Johnson, Camden Council’s cabinet member for children, schools and families, said: “We understand that all of our children’s centres are valued by their local communities but in order to make the level of saving required by central government we have no choice but to close two of them. In fact, I am relieved and very pleased that we have found ways of keeping the remaining 15 centres open.”

Councillor Johnson added that the council “will offer everyone the assistance they need to find alternative services”.

Councillor Matt Sanders, deputy leader of Camden Council’s Liberal Democrat opposition group, said: “Child care centres and after-school clubs are a lifeline to mums and dads who work long hours. If some centres are to close it should be so we can protect others. Labour must come clean with residents on how children’s services will change at the centres that remain open.”

The Caversham Children’s Centre has 25 full-time places, while Acol has 45.

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