PARENTS in North Swindon have hit out at council plans to close many of the town’s children’s centres, including the one at Abbey Meads.
If the proposal goes ahead, members of the council arehoping it will save almost £800,000 as they attempt to plug a £48m funding gap over the next three years.
As part of the proposal more than half the children’s centres will close, although the ones which work with the highest number of vulnerable youngsters will stay open.
A consultation will start later this month on the proposals but the idea is that Abbey Meads, along with West Swindon, becomes a ‘multi-generational’ facility which will run groups for people of all ages.
It will operate on two-thirds of the current funding for two years, after which it will have to source its own funding.
However, users of the centre say it provides a vital service and should not be taken away.
Fran Holmes, 24, of Haydon Wick, says she uses the centre regularly for her nine-week-old daughter Georgia.
“I have used it quite a few times in the last few months,” she said.
“I get Georgia weighed here and we come to a baby group.
“It is very convenient having it so close to home as it means I can walk here.
“If it was closed down I would still need somewhere to go so would have to travel a lot further.”
Michelle Bennett, 31, of Redhouse, has used the centre for three years, firstly with her three-year-old daughter Aoife and now with her 16-week-old son Joshua.
“This centre has been really useful and it would be a real shame it went,” she said.
“It is where the children get to meet a lot of their friends and socialise.
“There is nowhere else nearby so it will be very difficult for those who don’t have access to a car.”
Coun Fionuala Foley (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn), who is the cabinet member for children services, said: “This is not a decision which has been taken lightly and the centres helping the most vulnerable children will not be touched.
“As part of the consultation we are looking at turning Abbey Meads and West Swindon into multi-generational centres. These will have two years of guaranteed funding to cover the costs.
“A co-ordinator will be put in charge and they will go out into the community and find out what is needed most in the area.
“They will have the freedom to charge and raise excess funds.
“What we could see is the main services still being provided but on top of that there could be extra classes or groups available for parents.
“I have to balance budgets to ensure the council remains viable. Unfortunately this means making cuts.”
The consultation will be aimed at staff and users of the centres and will start on July 29.