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Protest against closure of Sure Start Centres outside Medway Council, Chatham

Opposition is growing to planned cuts to Medway’s Sure Start children’s centres, with families staging protests outside the council offices.

Medway Council’s cabinet discussed changes to early help services at a meeting this afternoon.

The preferred option is to close the 19 centres to create four larger ‘super hubs’. Another option is to shut them altogether.

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The protest outside Medway Council
The protest outside Medway Council

They voted to hold a public consultation on the plans.

Parents opposing the closures staged protesta outside the council offices at Gun Wharf at 10am and 2.30pm.

Mum Lexa Chatfield, who organised it, said: “People are really emotional about the proposals.

Video: Protesters gather outside Medway Council 

“The Sure Start centres do so much, from breastfeeding support, to help with postnatal depression and sessions for child minders.

“Most people I have spoken to could not imagine not being able to just pop to a centre nearby. Instead they could face a 45-minute bus journey with a baby.”

Anna Morell, mother and campaigner, said: “It’s critical that we save our backyard Sure Start centres. When parents are depressed, exhaustion because they have tiny babies, they need to be able to go these services in their neighbourhoods.

“They do not have the time, energy, or money to go off to a Superhub.

"Superhubs will not provide the diversity of services nor the strong sense of community that these services foster when they are in neighbourhoods.”

If plans go ahead, there would be four ‘super hub’ centres - one for Gillingham and Twydall; one for Luton and Rainham; one for Strood, Peninsula and Rochester West and one for Rochester East, Chatham and Walderslade.

The council said the four areas were selected to reflect local need and demand for services.

The consultation is due to start on May 23 and will run for six weeks.

Candice Penfold, James and William Kitney
Candice Penfold, James and William Kitney

Candice Penfold said: “Sure Start meant everything to me, I was a single parent when my youngest was eight weeks old and I had nowhere else to go. My Twydall centre saved me.

"They helped me breastfeed my son. They gave my older son support when he was having nightmares and gave him a safe place to play. It meant the world to me. It was a lifeline and a reason to get up, get dressed, get out of the house.

“I was there for six months and they offered me training and I was able to give back to the community that helped me. It led to work. I don’t know what I would have done without the Sure Start Centres.”

Victoria Jordan
Victoria Jordan

Cllr Andrew Mackness, head of children's services, said: "Each ‘super hub’ would also serve a wider area by operating as a base for outreach work, through which more tailored services could be provided such as visits to the most vulnerable families in their own homes, giving the potential for better overall outcomes.

“I’d urge everyone who has a view on this to submit their comments once the consultation is live and let us know their ideas about how we can deliver services in a different way.”

Medway Labour has called in the decision for further scrutiny and consideration.

Cllr Adam Price, Labour spokesman for children, has written an open letter to council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett calling the plans flawed and asked him to consider keeping the centres open.

Search Families Against The Closure of Children’s Centres in Medway on Facebook to find out more.

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