|Ealing's Children's Centres Face Closure Threat|
Residents' views on their future sought in consultation
Sally Abdel-Salam and her child Sayan
Sally Abdel-Salam didn't realise she was suffering postnatal depression until she walked into West Twyford Children's Centre. She was 24, with a new-born son, none of her friends had kids, and in her isolation she thought there was something wrong with her. Now the centre where staff lifted the loneliness and finally allowed Sally to start enjoying motherhood, is threatened with closure.
It is one of 11 in Ealing facing closure or service cuts as the council tries to save £808,000 from children centre services. The centres' early education and childcare services are safe, the council said, but access to stay and play and other services are likely to reduce, with some of the centres likely to close altogether.
For Sally, there is only one word for the idea of losing services like the stay and play, and she repeats it again and again – 'devastating'. Her two-year-old, Sayan, loves the centre, but it has proved just as much of a boon for his mother.
She said: 'It took a long time for me to come out of the house, but when I did I came in and started making friends, interacting with people, sharing experiences. I felt like I wasn't the only one actually going through this.'
She added, 'The amount of money they are going to save is far less than how much it will impact the community, because there's nothing around this whole community that's as supportive as this place.'
She met her best friend Dunia Ammar at the centre and together they attended a council consultation on Tuesday (April 2).
Dunia Ammar and her child Lara
Dunia said the pair would have to find money for a car if they had to take their children to the next-closest care centre, with the 40-minutes bus journey impractical with small children.
The childcare centre is available to children from new-born up to five years old, with the adjoined primary school offering a nursery from the age of three.
Headteacher Rachel Martin has been at the school for 13 years.
She remembers the state local children arrived in before the early childhood centre opened.
The kids arrived at nursery with almost no English, having learned the little they knew from Disney films.
She said: 'It breaks my heart to think we could end up back how it was.'
Children in the area speak everything from Russian, Romanian, Panjabi, Chinese and Portuguese as first languages.
The centre doesn't only supply stay play, it has medical facilities for the children, provides classes for new parents on everything from first aid to breastfeeding, and has theme language classes to make the children understand their new country and home.
For one mother, these classes have been indispensable. We have chosen not to identify her or her three-year-old son because she arrived in the UK a year ago to escape domestic abuse. Coming from Albania, she knows how her son's English and his social skills are benefiting from the centre.
When asked what she would do if services were cut, the woman's normally steady voice, falters. 'For me, I am a single mum, to leave him all day at home is a nightmare. I've put him in so many nurseries in this area and they can't take him because they have no room.'
The local park is more often the haunt of drinkers and smokers than children, and the women said this left the centre as the only place to take her child for most of the week. The whole area is enclosed with arterial roads, with the A40 and A406 creating an isolated community.
The only other facility in the area is the Anglican Church, and although it too runs childcare, Reverend Simon Reed said it can't supply the classes or facilities the childcare centre does.
Council figures show central government grants to Ealing have reduced by £143.7million, equivalent to a reduction of 64 per cent, over the past 10 years. The prospect of cuts or closures at 11 of Ealing's 27 early childcare centres comes after years of finding savings elsewhere.
A council spokesman said: 'The council has already made very significant savings over the last 10 years which makes the current savings increasingly difficult to find.'
The three centres most likely to close include the Wood End, Horsenden and North Ealing Children's Centres, a spokesman said, with doors closing as early as October. The other childhood centres under review include Acton Park, Copley, Dormers Wells, Havelock, Northolt Park, Windmill and Windmill Park.
Sally Abdel-Salam is now expecting her second child in June – the same month council will release their final report about the future of West Twyford. Knowing she had the centre down the road, she said, made her confident she could handle having a second child.
A final recommendation on the future of all 11 centres will be handed to Ealing Council on July 16, with the decisions implemented on July 29.
A council spokesman said: 'It is hoped that no centres will need to be closed. Based on the current budget proposals savings are phased through to March 2021 and it is unlikely that there will be significant changes at West Twyford until April 2020.'
Councillor Joy Morrissey, who also attended Tuesday's consultation, said the centre provided vital support to locals, who otherwise had no local amenities.
Zaid Shalchi said he and his wife would lose a lot of support and guidance in bringing up two-year-old Hamza – the pair's first child – if the centre's services were cut back.
Zaid Shalchi with his son Hamza
He said: 'Knowing what to do as parents is quite daunting. The first time Hazma bit another kid it was horrific, it was scary, what do you do? We came here, discussed it with other parents, and they said it's not a big deal, and this is what you should do. It made things so much easier.'
Zaid said his wife had chosen to leave work to care for her son, and he feared without the centre, she could suffer from isolation.
Cassandra Forrester regularly takes her eight-month-old son Kaiden to the centre, and before that, she brought her daughter, Akira.
She said: 'I felt isolated at home, so it was so important to come out, meet new people, get advice on being a mum.'
'I noticed such a difference as well with my little girl. Over just a few weeks, she was changing every day. She was learning and interacting with other kids. It means everything to me.'
This consultation will be open until 17 May 2019. You can take part by either attending a meeting at your local children's centre, or by completing either an online survey, or a printed survey and hand it in to a member of staff at any children's centre.
Ged Cann - Local Democracy Reporter
April 5, 2019