Ilford protest against cuts to children centres in Redbridge
PUBLISHED: 17:14 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:14 14 February 2019
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If you haven't lived with a baby then you simply won't understand how important playgroups and children centres are.
It is not just about the advice and support it provides, it is the sense of community (and possibly the ability to drink a cup of tea which isn’t freezing cold.)
Visiting them gives you a boost which enables you to keep all of life’s ducks in a row - it can mean the difference between a good week and a bad week.
Mum, dads and nanas filled Ilford High Road yesterday (Wednesday, February 13) to protest cuts to children centres.
Redbridge Council has launched a consultation after it said keeping all 21 in the borough was unaffordable - despite 43,000 young children and their families using them between August 2017 to 18.
If the sheer number of protestors wasn’t enough to show how vital the service is to people, then their individual stories would go a long way in convincing you.
From extreme situations to everyday support, parents spoke to the Recorder about how much of an impact it has on their lives and their children’s future.
“I had domestic violence throughout my pregnancy, the children’s centre literally saved my life,” said mum of one Aranee Sritharan,26.
“It gave me my strength, confidence and self-esteem and my daughter has developed so much.
“We go four or five times a week.
“If it wasn’t open, at the beginning I wouldn’t have had the energy to go anywhere else - it changed my life.”
Anitha Raju, 35, has two children and regularly attends two centres in the borough.
She said: “When I first came to this country, I felt depressed, I didn’t know anyone.
“From the first day we benefited so much. My daughter has developed because of the children centre - they were everything to me.”
Robin Berry, 37, used to work in several early years settings and he said children who don’t go to playgroups and children centres are often further behind at primary school.
“If it closed I would just stay at home or go to the library and swings - there wouldn’t be that interaction.
“The staff at the centres are amazing - no one has taken interest in my kid like this before - the people really care.
“It’s great to meet so many other parents from other centres today and it shows how many people out there feel the same way.
Dad Hemant Bhundhoo, 41 was among those braving the cold weather to hold up banners.
He added: “If they close it would be a big loss for me.
“I have made friends and regularly to classes and they have everything from health and development to what you should and shouldn’t do at home.
“It would also be hard financially to pay for lots of classes.”
Another father, Veer Bapanapalli, 35 said his baby goes to activities at children centres every day.
He said he has come up with a way to fund them.
“If they close I don’t know where I would go,” he said.
“If it really is a financial matter, why can’t all the council management take a pay cut and cut down on consultancy fees and give it to the children centres.”
Bushra Tahir runs charity AWWAZ and was among the group of protestors in Ilford.
We run our service from the children’s Centre in Loxford,” she said.
“Although they are not closing that one, more people will be forced to go there if they close others and it will create huge pressures.”
A council employee, who does not want to be named, passed the protest on the way to Lynton House.
He said while he sympathises with the protestors, local council’s hands are tied by cuts from central government.
He said their demonstration and petition would be better placed with Theresa May.
“Redbridge used to be a sleepy, leafy, suburban borough,” he said.
“But now that has changed and we have inherited inner-city problems but without the budget to reflect it.”
After the protest, several service users met with councillors in the town hall
Cabinet member for children and young people, councillor Elaine Norman said: “As a council we completely value our children centres and see the value they add to our families.
“I can see how children centre add value when children start in our schools they play a part of how great education is in Redbridge,
“The consultation still runs until March 6 and we are not going to make any decisions until then.
“We will look at the results to design an offer that is financially sustainable.”
Leader of the council, Councillor Jas Athwal said: “ There is some miscommunication out there at the moment, with rumours that we are closing Albert Road Children’s Centre.
“I categorically know this is not true.
“We will not make any decisions until March 6.”
To take part in the consultation visit: engagement.redbridge.gov.uk/childrens/childrens-centres/