A popular children’s centre has been saved from closure and will now stay open after a successful public protest.
Wath Victoria Children’s Centre was included on a ‘hit list’ of ten facilities due for closure to save Rotherham Council millions of pounds.
But council chiefs performed a u-turn and decided the Sure Start-run centre should remain open after more than 6000 people signed a petition against the proposed cuts.
The Wath community was celebrating the news this week in what was seen as a huge victory for people power. Other centres, however, remain earmarked for closure.
Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey said: “I am delighted. It means children around Wath will still get the best start in life and parents will still be able to get the great child care and support the centre offers.
“I met the head of Wath Sure Start in February shortly after the council opened the consultation about closures to discuss how best to make the case and campaign for the centre to stay open. We’ve worked together since then and I’ve held discussions with senior council members about leaving this part of Rotherham without a Sure Start.
“But it was the strong support from parents and the detailed work that the centre’s staff did to demonstrate the need for our Wath children’s centre that really counted.” Wath councillor Alan Atkin, whose daughter attends nearby Wath Victoria Primary School, said: “I am pleased the council has listened to the people. This is a vital service for families in Wath and so many people benefit from it. It is fantastic news for us.”
Rotherham Council’s cabinet decided to save the Wath centre last week.
Councillors heard more than 6,000 people had signed a petition against the scheme and keeping centres open would address concerns about travel and geographical spread between the centres. Centres in Swinton and Rawmarsh, which were originally due to stay open, will also be retained.
However, centres at Cortonwood, Kimberworth, Marcliff, Meadows, Rockingham, Ryton Brook, Silver Birch, Sue Walker, Thorpe Hesley and Thurcroft are all due to close. The move has sparked criticism.
Mr Healey said: “I’m still very concerned about the Cortonwood centre. Its family support and outreach service, as well as the day care, are vital in the village, and I’ll do what I can with staff and the local ward councillors to make sure we don’t lose the services when the council money goes next year.”
Jamie Thompson, a spokesperson for public service union UNISON, added: “This will hit the town’s under fives hard and there will be a direct impact on them when they begin school.”
From next year, there will be 12 centres left across the borough out of the original 22. The original proposals were designed to produce savings over two years of £2.2 million. Keeping the three centres open will cost the council £350,000.
Coun Mahroof Hussain, cabinet member for communities and cohesion, said: “This council values children’s centres and in an ideal world we would not want to be in this situation. However, we simply cannot fit a square peg into a round hole at a time of such huge budget cuts.”
Council leader Roger Stone added: “The Government withdrew its funding for children’s centres two years ago but Rotherham kept ours open and found the funding”.