Passionate plea from parents to save Kenilworth’s children’s centres

The church beginning to fill up before the meeting started
The church beginning to fill up before the meeting started

Parents gave a passionate plea to save Kenilworth’s children’s centres at a consultation meeting on their future yesterday (Tuesday August 1).

Both children’s centres in Kenilworth are set to close under current proposals from the county council. The next-nearest centre would be in Lillington.

The meeting, held at St John’s Church, gave people the chance to explain to Warwickshire County Council representatives why the centres mattered so much to them. It was attended by several dozens.

Among the issues raised were the importance of how easily accessible the centres are, the relationships parents build with staff and other families at the centres, and how wealth does not matter when it comes to problems associated with raising young children.

Before the meeting, the panel, made up of officers and Cllr Les Caborn, explained the background of the situation and insisted nothing was set in stone.

John Dixon, the director of children’s services in Warwickshire, said the council had to reduce its budget by a third - the equivalent of £200 million. They had considered keeping all 39 centres open with a very thin spread of money, but it was decided services would be compromised too much.

The location of the 12 ‘family hubs’ were then chosen based on where the ‘greatest need’ was.

The first person from the audience to speak, Sonia, said she was a mother to two disabled boys aged under five. She was often ‘swamped’ with appointments, but was able to use the centre due to how close it was.

She said: “I used almost every service, and the only reason I could access it is because it was two streets away. That centre was a crutch for me.”

And mother-of-two Emily said her needs were ‘huge’ despite living in an affluent area like Kenilworth. She suffered from post-natal depression and anxiety.

She added: “Having the children’s centre around the corner from me revolutionised having my daughter.

“I wouldn’t have got to a centre in Leamington or Warwick beacuse I was too afraid to put them in a car and drive that far.

“I couldn’t have carried on without a children’s centre. I’m frightened to think about what would have happened. Need-based is a very interesting way of putting it.”

Nicola Jones criticised the timing of the consultation as it was in the summer holidays when parents might be away, and described the consultation document as ‘fiendish’.

When Jenny Bevan of Warwickshire County Council explained she designed the document and admitted it was ‘difficult’, she also said people could send emails or call instead.

Nicola hit back, saying her admission was ‘deeply shocking’. She also said the data from the consultation would be easy to overlook, and felt it was ‘the numbers that matter.’

Some Kenilworth town councillors also went to the meeting to have their say.

Cllr Richard Hales, a father to twins, warned that Kenilworth’s population could grow by around 4,000 if the Local Plan is adopted, meaning the town’s centres are more important than ever.

He added: “I cannot understand who would sit there with the planner and say: ‘I know what’s a good idea, let’s have two in Leamington, one in Warwick, and nothing in Kenilworth.

“You have to have one in Kenilworth. You cannot sit there and say that if you live in Leamignton or Warwick you have an advantage.”

Speaking after the meeting, John Dixon insisted Kenilworth would still have services of some kind, but it was just a question of how they would operate.

The consultation period ends on September 11, and the final proposals are expected to be voted on by the council’s Cabinet around the end of November.