Monday, 4 April 2011

Sure Start closures: A mother writes

As the Borough gears up to, well, gear down it's Sure Start provision for children following the cuts decided at this meeting I have decided to give today's blog over to one mother, Ruth Walsh, who is running a camapign to save her own local centre. This has involved mothers picketing Hammersmith Town Hall with buggies and just yesterday marking Mother's Day by visiting 10 Downing Street with a local petition of over 2,000 against the closure of Wendell Park Children's Centre.

She is clearly both a strong local campaigner but also a mother who is herself struggling with things as they are - and herein lies the problem.

While most relatively comfortable parents will grumble but somehow manage with the cuts there are many who just won't - and she is one of them. Here's what she has to say:
"This has been organised by Hammersmith & Fulham Parents Unite, a community group of parents who regularly use the Children’s Centres at Cathnor Park, Fulham South (Sands End), Melcome, Rouzanna, Shepherd’s Bush Families Project and Wendell Park. Also the concerned parents at the soon-to –be-built New Kings Children’s Centre. Thousands of families. We also have backing from H&F NUT, Wendell Park Community Group and have the provisional backing of Citizens UK.

LBH&F have proposed to cut funding to 10 of its 16 children's centres by up to 92%. But still maintains that they are keeping the centres 'open'. Wendell Park, for example, would go from £250K to a (recently increased) £25,000 annual budget.

This leaves no funding for staff - the soul of the centres. The buildings would be simply that - empty buildings, to be used by Jobcentre Plus, Health Visitors & Midwives (in the new proposals).

Cathnor Park’s budget has gone from over £400k of annual funding, to the proposed £50,000 as a 'Super-Spoke' Centre. I understand that, contrary to Council’s claims, no provider to-date feels able to provide the services demanded by the Council on this budget.

Further, LBH&F propose to make 6 centres 'Hubs'. These hubs will get increased funding (of up to 50% more).... but will have to cope with potentially thousands of families from the former 'spoke' centres. In the case of Flora Gardens, as my personal proposed ‘Hub’, it would have to accommodate over 1,500 families from Cathnor Park, and 300 registered families from Wendell Park Children's Centres. All this when it can only accommodate 15 at a time in its building.

We are strongly against this 'Hub' & 'Spoke' remodeling of how the Children's Centres are to be funded. And strongly against the Council’s 50% budget cut to this service. This is not a government cut – LBH&F are choosing to cut services to vulnerable families and vulnerable children.

We all understand that cuts need to be made… We are ourselves proposing that all the Centres could stay open and staffed on a 15-20% cut! It is possible to do this differently and we want to talk to staff and Council how this can be worked to save the money needed, and keep the services functioning… As I write, Council have not responded".
And who am I?
"Formerly a producer and sometime director of corporate films..... I am now a single mum, on benefits (don't you just love that label?!)  

I'm Ruth Walsh and I'm one of the parents who have formed Hammersmith & Fulham Parents Unite to save all our Children's Centres in the borough.

How has the Children's Centre helped me and my little boy...?   Where do I start?

I had a nervous breakdown when I was pregnant and having no family local, and being on my own, I was assigned a social worker as they were concerned for my baby.   When Billy was born he was made a Child in Need and we had the support of two social workers (one each no less!), a Health Visitor, a Family Support worker,  and a psychiatrist for me.   We had six-weekly review meetings, and in Billy's first 6 months we must have had thousands of support hours put into keeping us both well.

I was still with our Family Support worker when his Child in Need status came to an end and she dragged me kicking and screaming to my local Children's Centre!    I didn't go back.....  until...

I soon became very isolated and profoundly depressed.     Thankfully Wendell Park's Outreach Worker, Kaysha came to my home to meet me, and over time gently encouraged me to visit the Centre.   It's a 10 minute walk away.

Kaysha was always there to make me feel welcome and to introduce me to other mums and babies.   Slowly, slowly I started going on my own, and now I can't see a way forward without it.

On my desperately bad days Kaysha can help to get us out if we're able. And as for Billy.... where else would we go that offers such a broad range of developmental learning?  Where else can he mix and play and learn from other children, from a range of backgrounds and ages?    Remember, we're on benefits! Importantly, I’m always with him so, when he meets a child, I meet their parent/carer! We have the time and the environment to make connections, and the experienced staff to turn to if we need help.

Quite simply, I wouldn't be the mum that I am today without Wendell Park Children's Centre.   I don't know if I'd even still be here.   And Billy certainly wouldn't be the happy boy he now is.

LBHF are proposing more Family Support workers to work with vulnerable families (I've got that label too!  yum!).  I have been told I'll be 'looked after'. Mmm...

I have already been through the system they are proposing to extend.   The Family Support team are FABULOUS!    There comes a point when their work is done and it's more appropriate to socialise the family they are looking after.  And this is where the Children's Centres come in.    There comes a point where we don't want to be so 'looked after'.    Surely that is healthy on every level, and ultimately moves responsibility  from the state to the individual. Surely that is part of The Big Society everyone seems to harping on about…

Our Children's Centres are a vital Centre of community support, within the community.   I've met mums, grandmums, dads, carers (and children) from all cultures and backgrounds, that have shared their stories and advice with me.    This would no longer exist in the safe and welcoming environment of our Children's Centres under the present proposals.

I can't physically get to Flora Gardens, our proposed 'hub' (in the new model as proposed by LBHF)  because it's too far for me to walk and I can't physically get my boy on a bus.   And on my bad days there is no way I'll be able to get myself and Billy there on the off chance it won't be full.

How can Flora Gardens possibly cope with the additional intake from the two local Centres the council propose to reduce, when many of their sessions are already full?   And the thought of that many people and children..!! it scares me, I can't imagine how it might affect some of the other mums and babies!

These changes are affecting our children's future.   Children that might otherwise have problems when they start school... and be behind for the rest of their school years. The important thing for all of us to understand is that Children’s Centres provide Early Intervention in a unique, community-led way. They are staffed by qualified professionals who enable parents and their children to interact from a very young age. These staff know the parents and children, and can spot problems very early on. They can therefore provide the support needed before a problem spirals into something more. Early Intervention at its best.

Restructuring the Children’s Centre services in the ways proposed in Hammersmith & Fulham will detrimentally affect the development of the pre-school children in the Borough.

The proposed changes are ethically, morally and logically wrong.

These changes will be putting young children at risk. Who will be responsible when the first tragedy happens as a result of them?

Please read our Facebook page at!/pages/Hammersmith-Fulham-Parents-Unite/204170166278125

And my personal blog at :"
Cuts have to be made. And if it wasn't to Sure Start it would have to be somewhere else. Anyone desperate to see their local hospital cut, for example? And just as I've given over this blog to Ruth, I'm more than happy to host any of the Cabinet who may wish to respond - you write it, I'll publish it.

The purpose of this is to bring out the bits that the local media never cover - they can't either because they don't have the time, the interest or the article is too short - but Ruth is one very active member of our local community in Shepherd's Bush who is clearly doing what she thinks is right - and we need more people like her.

Wednesday UPDATE - well, the Council have responded to this but not quite in the way I thought they might. A press officer has sent me a link to an article that appeared in the paper the Government refers to as "propaganda on the rates" and which it is forcing the Council to close down - H&F News - which extols the benefits of the changes. Er, that's it. No response to anything Ruth has said. Not worth responding to, it seems.

I did double check that this was really what the Council wanted to use, but yes, they said - that was it. So here's yer link, then, and be grateful.


  1. I very much agree - active and committed locals need to have their voices heard. I want to congratulate Ruth for focussing her energy on such a worthy effort!


  2. Ealing aren't closing any childrens centres - how are they managing this when H&F can't?

  3. Fantastic post, thankyou. I wonder if Toby Young's appearance at the Rally Against Debt aka pro-cuts march will be to cheer about cuts such as these...

  4. I hope that it is recognised how much effort it takes to sit down and write this sort of essential article, which has clearly taken time and thought. Well done and keep it up.

  5. Good luck with the Buggy Push on Monday. Maybe Chris could stick something up about it on Sunday or Monday morning?