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Mums' concerns as closure threat hangs over Suffolk's 'vital' children's centres

Mothers have expressed their concerns as it emerged ‘vital’ children’s centres are at risk of closing under a Suffolk County Council review.

Carousel, Bury Library and Hardwick children’s centres, in Bury St Edmunds; Bluebells, in Stanton; Acorns and Sunshine centres in Stowmarket; Robins, in Needham Market and Lark, in Mildenhall, are among those across the county whose future hangs in the balance.

A cross-party task force was set up by the council in February to review the centres.

Endeavour House, Ipswich (8438667)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (8438667)

The extent of possible changes is not clear, but sources indicate up to half the existing 38 could close as part of cost-cutting measures. It is not known if redundancies would be made.

Children’s centres offer free activities and services such as baby massage, child health clinics, midwifery services, play groups, parenting support sessions and advice.

Laura Vogel, of Bury, used the centres with her daughter. She said: “I would feel really disappointed if they closed. Not only do they provide fun activities, they offer something much more important – they offer a support network, helpful advice and a way of finding new friends for mum and baby.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them, especially having no family close by or ‘mummy friends’.”

County council bosses confirmed the task force’s recommendations would be prepared ahead of a cabinet meeting on May 21.

A council spokesman said: “We see this as an opportunity to develop a new family service offer and ensure any potential model of delivery provides co-ordinated support for children in need and their families.”

He added: “Any change in the provision will be delivered alongside our staff and with full engagement with the public.”

Ali Huggins, of Stowmarket, said: “I used to work for a children’s centre and I witnessed first-hand what amazing work they do.

"From providing a space for baby weighing clinics, to contact centres, to cooking groups, baby massage and heurisitic play, advice on safety equipment, signposting to financial information for those that are struggling and groups for children with additional needs – all of which are vital services."

Ali has also used children’s centres with both her children, from 2010 to the present.

“I found their information and help invaluable as a first-time mum to Daisy and also as a support with my second child Elvis, and have thoroughly enjoyed going,” she said.

“I can’t believe they are actually considering closing such vital services. Who knows what impact this will have on children going forward?”

Victoria Hobson, of Bury, used the centres with both her children and said she had found it reassuring to know children’s centre staff were always on hand to talk to.

“Children’s centres are such a big part of the parents and babies/children’s lives and also give mums someone to reach out to after giving birth,” she added.

Bury’s Carousel Children’s Centre, in St Olave’s Road, is currently earmarked to move to a purpose-built space when a new social centre and homes are eventually built on its current site.

Anne Humphrys, co-chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said “Families tell us children’s centres are often a very real lifeline.

“Any decision about children’s centres which results in a reduction of services, reduced accessibility and is detrimental to families simply cannot be a decision SPCN could support.”

In 2014, Suffolk County Council set up a similar review of children’s centres which resulted in the closure of nine centres, to save £250,000.

In January, Norfolk County Council approved the closure of 38 of its 53 centres as part of a £5 million package of savings.

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