With just a few days left to make their voices heard, parents, councillors and the community speak out to stop closures
Parents, councillors and supporters have rallied against Kent County Council plans to close Priory Children’s Centre on Cannon Road – and with it, the in-demand Explorers Nursery- and Callis Grange Nursery in Broadstairs.
On Tuesday, parents and Explorers nursery staff took to Ramsgate High Street, seeking support for their online petition against the closure which now has 1,000 signatories and counting.
Throughout the week, parents have been calling on their neighbours to sign up too – posting leaflets through doors across town, as well as canvassing local businesses.
Explorers Nursery Manager, Clair Jones, said: “We’ve been utterly amazed by the support. The response from the community has been incredible – and it’s a real testament to how valued the nursery and children’s centre is to our families and local residents. They know the vital difference these services make.
“The message to Kent County Council is clear: Save our nursery. Save our children’s centre. Stop the closures and re-think these devastating proposals that will deprive local children of a better start in life.”
Explorers Nursery is charity-run and provides care and education for children aged 3 months to 5 years. It has been based at Priory Children’s Centre since 2010.
But the nursery is under threat due to Kent County Council (KCC) plans to shut the site as part of a community services public consultation, set to end this week (Sunday 26 March).
Kent County Council (KCC) plans to save £6million by changing the way it provides community services. These include children’s centres and youth hubs, health visiting services and counselling for young people, services for adults with learning disabilities and council gateways.
Proposals include co-location of facilities, particularly in library buildings, new Family Hubs with multiple services for youngsters aged 0-19, more flexible outreach activities, reducing the number of permanent buildings and making the most of digital technologies. The aim is to reduce costs and carbon footprint and help balance the council’s budget. KCC faces a £50m budget deficit over the next year and the current backlog of maintenance costs on council buildings sits at £165m.
Campaigners say closing the nursery and children’s centre site in Cannon Road, Ramsgate, would:
- Force out the popular Explorers Nursery
- Deprive over 50 local children of a quality early education
- Cut affordable childcare for 28 working parents, who could in turn lose their jobs
- Slash 6 nursery places for the lowest-income families
- Disrupt crucial support services for vulnerable families such as mother and baby healthcare, and adult education & training.
Parent-of-two, Kate Birch, whose daughters attend Explorers, said: “The nursery has been a real lifeline for me. Both my girls flourished here – the purpose built spaces and facilities give them the safe freedom and independence they need, while the professionalism and caring approach of the staff is exceptional.
“As an isolated and struggling new mum, the nursery being attached to Priory Children’s Centre also made it possible for me to access the support services they offered too with ease.
“The nursery closing would be a disaster for families, of all walks of life.”
Residents Shirley and Tony Vick said: “We’ve got 21 grandkids and 28 great-grandkids – with the 29th on the way!
“That’s why we support nursery provision and this petition. Too many facilities are being closed down – people need these services. You see all these new builds further out, but there aren’t enough services for the children here, in the town itself.”
The show of strength by the community follows the lead of Ramsgate Town Council, which voted unanimously to protest the closures “in the strongest terms”.
Protests have also been made of the closure of Callis Grange children’s centre which is the only one in Broadstairs, meaning families will have to travel to Margate or Ramsgate for services.
Today, campaigners are joining protests at KCC’s County Hall in Maidstone.
With only a few days left before the public consultation on children’s centres closes, it is the last chance for families across Kent to directly voice their opposition to the cuts.
Joining the protests and backing the Explorers Nursery campaign to be saved from closure, Ramsgate County Councillor, Karen Constantine said: “I have been fully opposed to these closures from the start.
“Ramsgate already suffers from a severe lack of nursery spaces and early childcare provision – especially for the least-advantaged families in our town.
“To close down successful nurseries like Explorers and the Priory Children’s Centre is going in the wrong direction – it’s doing our children harm.
“It also makes working life very difficult for parents and that in turn harms our local economy too.
“Last but not least, it’s against KCC’s own promises to reduce inequality of provision for the most deprived areas.
“That’s why I continue to speak out against these plans today, and will vote against them in due course. KCC must do better to level up for Ramsgate’s children. Early years provision is vital.”
The plans also fly in the face of a new central government drive announced last week to boost the take up of early childcare, says Kim Hammond, Project Manager for Thanet Early Years – the charity which runs Explorers Nursery.
She said: “On the one hand we’ve got the government saying it wants to support more nursery places, on the other, we’ve got KCC saying our site should be shut down!
“Of course, it’s a question of priorities – but we believe our nursery and the children’s centre is not only a vital service, but also the cost-effective choice: we pay rent for the space we use, and in the long run, our services save money from the public purse by giving children and families the ability to stand on their own two feet.
“We think that choice is clear and we’re committed to working with Kent County Council to find a better way forward for all the families we serve.”
The proposals that affect Thanet are:
Shutting Callis Grange Children’s Centre with people directed to use Six Bells centre in Margate instead. For health visiting services people would need to go to the remaining children’s centres or use outreach services.
Shutting Priory Children’s Centre with alternatives of using a new proposed Community Hub at Ramsgate Library or going to Newlands Children’s Centre or Six Bells Children’s Centre.
Shutting services for adults with a learning disability currently held at Hartsdown Leisure Centre with nearest alternatives to be proposed hubs at Broadstairs and Cliftonville libraries or using Minnis Day Centre.
The closure of services at Broadstairs Adult Education Centre which will be relocated to Broadstairs library.
Callis Grange and Priory children’s centres among Thanet sites earmarked for closure in KCC ‘community services’ overhaul
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