Backlash against planned children’s centre closures in Warwickshire forces council rethink

Shire Hall, where Warwickshire County Council sits
Shire Hall, where Warwickshire County Council sits

The backlash from concerned parents and groups has made Warwickshire County Council rethink part of its plan to close children’s centres across the county.

The council proposed in June this year to change the 39 current centres into 12 ‘family hubs’ after the new budget was agreed.

But following a lengthy consultation period last summer, the council published a report on Wednesday (November 1) which recommended keeping 14 centres open in the county rather than 12, and keeping some centres open which were originally going to close.

The council’s Cabinet will vote on whether to implement the new plans at a meeting on Thursday November 9.

If the plans go ahead, centres in Lillington, Westgate, and Kingsway would become ‘children and family centres’ rather than ‘family hubs’.

The name was changed as the council felt the term ‘family hub’ was too confusing.

Originally, Sydenham was going to be kept instead of Kingsway, but the council said the consultation found Kingsway’s centre was in a greater area of need.

An ‘outreach model’ has been proposed for centres due to close in Whitnash, Warwick, Kenilworth Bertie Road and Wellesbourne.

This means although the centres would not be run by the county council, services could still be provided either by the community or third parties, visiting people in need, rather than people going to centres directly.

The council has also said a number of organisations have suggested running some of these centres, meaning they might still be able to access services in certain towns. It is not yet clear which centres these groups are interested in.

Kenilworth St John’s and Southam are also set to have outreach services, but the centres would be kept for one year in a ‘transition period’.

But Sydenham would close fully if the proposals are approved, with no outreach support planned.

The council said ‘significant representations’ made from people in Kenilworth meant they had to keep one centre open for longer while it worked out how it could deliver a good service through outreach.

Originally, both St John’s and Bertie Road’s centres in Kenilworth were going to be closed. The nearest centre to the town would have been in Lillington.

Kenilworth’s county councillors Alan Cockburn, John Cooke and Dave Shilton were ‘delighted’ with the news that St John’s would be kept for a year. They were optimistic that a case could be made to keep the centre open permanently.

Cllr Cockburn said: “These centres being given a reprieve so a permanent solution can be found demonstrates this was a genuine consultation and the views of everyone were taken into consideration.

“John, Dave and I have lobbied hard to keep a children’s centre open as the consultation proved that there is a great need for one in a town of 24,000 people and asking young families to travel to Leamington and Warwick was always going to cause difficulties.”

But Kenilworth town councillor Richard Dickson (Lib Dem, St John’s) was more cautious.

He said: “It’s not clear exactly what the new model might be nor what services will be delivered from it and how these will be funded.

“So there’s still some uncertainty, but clearly the council has had to rethink its original proposals.

“This is welcome, and massive thanks are due to the huge response by local families and the local community.

“The work must now progress to ensuring that these vital services stay in Kenilworth.”

During the consultation, the council found the centres’ role in reducing isolation and giving vital information to parents was very important to people.

It also found the services most valued by people were ‘Stay and Play’, which focus on activities for children up to five years old, and the family support and health services provided by the centres.