Toddlers face long journey to kids’ centres after Lambeth Council axes 5 community hubs

Parents in Lambeth with pre-school children are facing long walks to children’s centres from September due to closures, it has been claimed.

Children’s centres aim to provide vital health services, early language skills and play groups for youngsters up to the age of five.

Lambeth Council decided on April 15 to close five of the 23 children’s centres in the borough this year due to funding cuts.

Social enterprise Coin Street Community Builders (Coin Street) runs a children’s centre set to lose funding, forcing parents in the area to walk 25 minutes to the next one.

Elizabeth Frimpong-Aboagye, 35, a careers advisor living in Lambeth who has used the centre for seven years, said: “Why should we lose something in our area that’s working well? Coin Street has actually been outstanding for many, many years.”

She warned increased pressure on the remaining centres would mean parents will be forced to leave home earlier in the morning and those forced to take public transport would face the added expense and crowded buses.

She said: “In the morning rush hour it is impossible. About three or four busses can go past before you get a chance to get on.”

Ms Frimpong-Aboagye attended Coin Street’s course on nutrition because she was concerned her daughter was putting on too much weight.

“Attending that course made me radically change our shopping and eating habits and now my daughter has more energy. You can see she’s more proactive in stuff she has to do and she doesn’t complain about being tired,” she said.

Coin Street’s children’s centre is on the borough boundary and gets funding from both Lambeth and Southwark councils.

This means it will remain open for Southwark children but will have to turn away children from Lambeth even though it is in Lambeth.

Coin Street’s director of community David Hopkins said: “Experience tells us that families, especially vulnerable families, access services where they feel safe and where they have built relationships and trust with an organisation and members of the team there.

“Our families regularly tell us how at home they feel at the neighbourhood centre. If they have to travel somewhere new, we are concerned they will just fall through the net.”

A Coin Street spokesperson said a dialogue was still open with the council which it said had pledged to identify alternative funding for children and families living in the Coin Street area.

After the council’s decision in April, the Green Party requested the Cabinet think again, but this was voted down by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on May 16.

Councillor Pete Elliott, who presented the Green Party’s request, said: “Some parents will now have to walk 45 minutes to access services at a core children’s centre. This is not within ‘pram-pushing distance’, particularly for those with mobility issues.”

Belinda Washington, 37, a mother and teacher living in south east London, said: “The work that’s gone in on early literacy is tremendously important for giving these children the best possible start, and this reduces the risk of these children ending up in poverty.

“It really combats the isolation that a lot of new parents experience and it is absolutely vital.”

At the council meeting on April 15, where campaigners – pictured above – protested outside, the Labour-led Cabinet claimed nine years of austerity meant a “difficult decision” had to be made to close the centres in Lambeth.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite, said the proposed redesign of the children’s centre services was a result of Department for Education restrictions on how the Council could use the Dedicated Schools Grant.

Lambeth Council was approached for comment.

Image with thanks to Lambeth Save Our Services.

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