• Ottery Children’s Centre may be at risk of closure

    25th April 2014 | News | Claire
  • The news of yet another important facility in the town being at risk of closure came to light as a public consultation on the future of Devon’s children’s centres started on Tuesday (22 April).

    The centre, which is behind the town council offices, opened its doors just three or four years ago, following government funding being made available to support new parents and their young children.

    The children’s centres are run by charities for Devon County Council. And the number of children’s centre contracts are being reduced due to major cuts to council budgets, by central government.

    Devon County Council must cut £110m by 2017, and is proposing (among a raft of other service cuts) to slash the number of children’s centre contracts from 43, to just eight.

    Over the last five years the budget for children’s centre services is been reduced by about £1.5 million (15%), meaning in total that the county council now spends around £8.6 million.  In the next three years, the budget for Children’s Centre Services is set to reduce by a further 15% (£1.2 million).

    Children’s centre buildings are proposed to be retained where there are high levels of deprivation, but the rest are likely to be at risk.

    This includes Ottery’s children’s centre, which is at risk of closure.  It already lost some of its funding in the last administration, due to earlier budget cuts.

    On Tuesday, I met with Mandy Lane and Christine Cottle of Action for Children, which runs Ottery’s Children’s Centre on behalf of Devon County Council.

    They explained how the centre supported local families and the sorts of issues they were asked for help with.

    There are classes every day, with the exception of Friday.  There are groups for new mums trying to breast-feed their babies, parent and baby bonding groups, ante-natal classes and baby and toddler play sessions.  These all provide opportunities for parents to meet and normalise their parenting experiences.

    Also on offer is speech and language therapy support, counselling, practical support for families who are struggling to make ends meet, parenting groups and support, signposting and referrals to support agencies covering postnatal depression, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and housing support.  There is also a family support team who can provide 1:1 support in the home during those challenging times as a parent.

    Christine and Mandy told me that the number of families who have been forced to use Ottery’s food bank has increased considerably in the last year or so.

    Mr Cameron’s claims that the reason for the increase (seen across the country) being due to food banks becoming more widely known about, is thought to be only part of the story.

    Devon County Council is trying to reduce its costly assets and sell-off as many of its buildings as possible.

    But what a waste of tens of thousands of pounds it would be to scrap a recently refurbished building that has been fully kitted out with the sole aim of becoming a children’s centre.

    If the council removes the base – the centre itself – then there is nowhere to store all the play and other equipment and nowhere for the staff to work from.  Shifting sessions (and equipment) into village and church halls is impractical and time-consuming for staff and could have a knock-on effect on the number and length of sessions.

    This consultation will last for six weeks ending on Friday 6 June.  Here’s more information and how to comment – http://new.devon.gov.uk/childrenscentrereview/

    There is a public meeting on the future of Ottery’s children’s centre, on Friday 23 May, from 10am-midday, at the Tumbling Weir Hotel. To attend, residents are asked to book via .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)