Parents furious at threatened closure of beloved children’s centre

Parents are fuming after an academy trust announced it is to close their children’s centre – and only told them on the last day of term, threatening the jobs of up to 20 staff.

Cherry Tree Children’s Centre (CTCC), Barston Road Lambeth is set to close in August, according to plans published by its management this week.

The Great North Wood Education Trust/Rosendale Primary School, which manages CTCC, made the announcement as Lambeth’s cabinet meets on Monday, 15th April, to vote on controversial plansto close five other children’s centres in the borough to address a £1.4m overspend, amid intensive lobbying from ‘Save Our Children’s Centres’ campaigners.

Cherry Tree Children’s Centre, a former Sure Start centre serving West Norwood, West Dulwich and Gipsy Hill, provides childcare (nursery) services to children aged 6 months to 5 years.

The purpose-built centre is one of the largest and most oversubscribed publicly funded childcare providers in the area. It was extended in 2014 to increase site provision to provide for free early years care for 2 and 3 year olds, offers facilities for SEN children, has wrap-around outdoor space, and currently provides day care to 67 children and employs 20 full time members of staff.

Parents, staff and caregivers at CTCC were assured the site as a childcare provider was safe in a consultation leaflet issued to the community in December 2018. They say there has been no consultation on the future of CTCC, which is now set to close.

Managers for CTCC, The Trust/Rosendale CC have stated that all childcare provision at CTCC will be subsumed into Rosendale Children’s Centre, based in Herne Hill, a mile away.

Parents and caregivers have been told their children will be given priority for places. But they say Rosendale CC is already oversubscribed, much smaller than CTCC and the site would have to be expanded to provide adequate places to meet the shortfall.

A new ‘Norwood cluster’ – of Rosendale CC, Crown Lane CC and Liz Atkinson CC – leaves the catchment area for the Cherry Tree site woefully under represented, so working families will have no choice but to take up prohibitively expensive private childcare, and more vitally, eligible free places for disadvantaged families could be lost altogether.

The Cherry Tree Action Group, set up by parents and caregivers in response to the decision of its management The Trust/Rosendale Primary School last Friday (5th April), is now fiercely campaigning to expose the lack of statutory consultation undertaken and fight for a right of reply over the proposed closure.

Nick Acton, father and spokesperson for Cherry Tree Action Group said: “We are dismayed at the lack consultation over the future of our children’s centres in Lambeth and the future of Cherry Tree Children’s Centre. At no point were we or the community advised there was a threat of closure, in fact the opposite.

“We believe that due to its opaque management structure under the Great North Wood Education Trust/Rosendale Children’s Centre, Cherry Tree’s children and families have been denied their rightful voice. Cherry Tree is an exceptionally popular purpose-built childcare facility relied on by many families seeking both the free and affordable early years childcare on offer here.

“Rather than see the end of childcare provision at Cherry Tree, we are now just beginning the fight to be heard to ensure the excellent services it has always been known for can continue.”

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “Cherry Tree is currently a school-run childcare facility and is not funded by Lambeth Council. Since converting to academy status, Rosendale school which runs Cherry Tree has faced significant financial pressure and can no longer afford to continue running childcare at the site. Childcare services are scheduled to end at the end of August 2019, to allow parents to make alternative arrangements.

“Lambeth council has worked with Rosendale school on trying to maintain this provision and will now look at alternative uses for the building in the future, including the possibility of a new childcare provider taking over the site.”

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