FAMILIES have criticised Essex County Council’s decision to close or reduce opening hours at a number of children’s centres.
Four of the 20 centres in north Essex run by Barnardo’s, one in Highwoods, Colchester, two in Clacton and one in Mistley, will shut.
Five centres will see a combined increase in opening hours of 43 hours per week. However, a reduction in hours at six centres amounts to 152 hours per week.
Louise Harland, 29, takes daughter Tallulah, two, to the St Anne’s and Castle Children’s Centre, Colchester, which is set to drop from 43 hours per week to 25.
Mrs Harland said: “We had an intruder in our home when we returned from holiday. We felt unsafe and had to move house.
“After it happened, we were staying with friends and I went to the centre for a change of scene on the Thursday. By the Monday, they had arranged for counselling for my son Jack, now six, and I and they funded it. There’s no way I could have afforded it privately.
“It has been a lifeline for the last five months. They have been amazing. The fact they have these centres is fabulous and they are very well attended.
“Having that familiar face makes all the difference. Even if there are no sessions running, I could just go in and visit them.
“Nothing beats that.”
Gemma Ward, 32, takes four-month-old son, Wilson, to sessions at Highwoods Children’s Centre. Ms Ward, of Caracalla Way, Highwoods, said: “I’ve been going since Wilson was three weeks old, for baby beginnings, breast feeding support, baby massage and baby boogie.
“It is really invaluable meeting new mums and chatting about all you’re going through.
“It is so nice to have something within walking distance.
“We now face having to go outside the local area. I am really disappointed by the decision to move the centre.”
Emma-Louise Endean, 38, attends sessions at Highwoods with son Dylan, six months. She said: “It’s such a good support group.
“The parents and children will miss out if it moves somewhere less accessible. My husband uses the car during the day so for me it would mean using a bus or taxi.”
Karyn Miller, 41, attends with her seven-month-old son Charlie.
She said: “Most people walk, and at a busy session there are at least 30 people there.
“If you had 30 cars all driving to a session elsewhere, it could be a nightmare to park.”
Louise Linzell-Williams, takes daughter Lilly-May, four months. She said: “ It is perfect for us. If we have to go to Mile End, we will have to drive.
“I like the sessions as I can also learn from the experience of parents with older children.”
Barnardo’s declined to comment on the plans.
AT-A-GLANCE GUIDE TO CLOSURES AND CUTS IN HOURS
THE new model will see main sites open all week, with “delivery” sites open part time and some additional outreach services in more rural areas.
Some sessions will still be run at the same venue as centres which are closing, but drop-in support will no longer be available.
Essex County Council, which is looking to save money, has been consulting on the changes since October. Councillors are set to make a final decision at a cabinet meeting next Tuesday.
County Hall hopes to save £2.24million a year through the county-wide changes, with an additional £201,000 saved in 2015/16. A further £39,000 will be saved in reduced rent and utility costs.
In north Essex, 15,260 families use children’s centres, with a further 13,058 registered families in the 4 Children-run mid-Essex centres.
- Highwoods, Gavin Way – close and merge with Beehive, Cowper Crescent, Mile End
- Manningtree, New Road, Mistley – close and merge with Windmill, Mayes Lane, Ramsey
- ABC Together, Chingford Avenue, Clacton – close and merge with Rainbow, Old Pier Street, Walton
- Little Lanes, John Ray Gardens, Black Notley – close and merge with Seesaw, Lancaster Way, Braintree
- Holland Valley, Oxford Road, Clacton – merge with St James’s centre at the same site.
Centres with reduced hours per week (current hours in brackets):
- St Anne’s and Castle Children’s Centre, Colchester – 25 (43)
New Town Children’s Centre, Colchester – 20 (45)
- Birch and Rural Children’s Centre – 5 (42.5)
- Colchester Discovery Children’s Centre – 15 (37.5)
- Colne Children’s Centre, Brightlingsea – 20 (40)
- Harwich Town Children’s Centre, Dovercourt – 20 (50)
- Yellow Brick Road Children's Centre, Great Totham – 5 (40)