Woodlands Children's Centre, Glemsford
Hadleigh and Glemsford will see their Children's Centres shut down at the end of March. One refurbished, the other purpose-built for children, fully funded by Labour and only opened in 2008 and 2010, they were part of Sure Start.
The idea behind Sure Start was to bring together, under one roof, early help, guidance and protection for children and families. Services free for all at the point of need. Breaking down barriers and providing discreet and targeted support for those with problems. Prevention would give a better start wherever needed. It would also be cheaper longer term – in personal and human costs, but also for public services. It made sense, was needed and it worked.
But Sure Start Children's Centres are also an easy target for short-term cuts in Suffolk.
I’ve met parents and carers who won’t go to re-located centres. No one's yet told the expectant mums at Glemsford where their future ante natal checks will happen. One thinks she’ll have to go to Sudbury, but doesn’t drive. Another mum, keen to attend a confidence-building programme having fled a violent ex-partner, won’t get there if it’s not held within walking distance. The idea of asking directions at reception in a leisure centre for such a deeply personal course fills her with horror. "Where will we have our family counselling now?" asked another. I don’t know - and nor does the Council. The disruption caused doesn't count with those councillors who voted to close them. They're busy piling up the obstacles blocking children and families from services they value and need; services that, indirectly, benefit all of us in the long run.
Many parents knew from the outset that the closure plans were a done deal and the public consultation a very slanted sham. Subsequent events have proved them right. So why bother to protest and petition, complain and campaign?
There's a simple answer. Sometimes, it's impossible not to.
Despite the pressures we face to obey authority, to defer to the powerful and accept what is, we have choices. We can play ball, go along with the obvious charades, and take whatever's given. That can feel easier. But sometimes, because we live in a democracy, we can say 'No!'. We can take sides, suggest alternatives, call for change and look authority in the eye.
For me, decisions on services affecting the future of our children will remain one of those times. There will be another one in May this year.
Parliamentary Candidate for South Suffolk – Labour Party
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