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Mayor of Ramsgate, Raushan Ara, and her predecessor, Trevor Shonk, have slammed Kent County Council plans to close a ‘crucial’ nursery site in the town – as the fight to save the nursery moves forward with the launch of a petition.
The two councillors have spoken out against the proposed closure of Priory Children’s Centre – home to popular Explorers Nursery.
In a visit to the charity-run Explorers Nursery at the Cannon Road site on Monday, Mayor Raushan Ara met with nursery workers, children and their parents and heard about the important role the nursery and the wider children’s centre plays in the community.
The in-demand nursery is now under threat after it emerged that Kent County Council (KCC) plans to shut the site as part of a community services overhaul.
Cllr Ara said: “Explorers is a thriving nursery which is giving young children the best start in life – a fact underscored by the demand from parents to get their children places here.
“But my visit has shown me it’s not just the children that benefit directly. The childcare provided by the nursery means the parents of these children can go to work. It also provides jobs for the staff.
“The wider children’s centre also supports some of the most vulnerable young parents with healthcare help and parenting advice.
“Together, this nursery and children’s centre is a crucial space for the community. To shut it down would be a tragic failure for children and their families.
“I encourage all of Ramsgate’s residents to back the nursery’s new petition and force Kent County Council to rethink these devastating proposals.”
Explorers Nursery have today (January 25) launched an online petition in its fightback against the closure plans
Explorers Nursery is charity-run and provides care and education for children aged 3 months to 5 years. It has been based at Priory Children’s Centre since 2010.
The nursery caters for families living in deprivation and isolation and also supports working families who rely on the childcare so they can work.
At present, Explorers Nursery is full to capacity and has 51 children on its roll. It currently supports 19 working families, 6 of whom qualify for low-income places.
Petition organisers say closing the nursery and children’s centre will deprive 51 children of a quality early education; cut affordable childcare for 28 working parents, who could in turn lose their jobs and slash 6 nursery places for the lowest-income families.
They say closure will also disrupt crucial support services for vulnerable families such as mother and baby healthcare, and adult education and training.
Former mayor and current Kent County Councillor Trevor Shonk also spoke out against his KCC colleagues’ plans following a visit to the centre last Friday.
The member for Ramsgate said: “I’ve lived in Ramsgate my whole life, and I live across the road from the nursery and children’s centre. I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact these services have had for scores of children and young parents since it opened.
“These plans are simply a no-no from the start. It’s a classic case of a decision made by people in the centre who don’t know the reality of the situation on the ground.
“We don’t have enough nursery and early education places in Ramsgate as it is. So why would you choose to close a crucial service that’s already in short supply?
“I’ll be speaking up for the children and parents in my community to fight these plans.”
Ward councillors Tricia Austin and Becky Wing, along with Cllr Ara, added: “We are appalled at KCC’s plans to close this centre, which offers a hugely valuable local service to children up to 5 years old and their families.
“Children’s Centres offer fun opportunities for early learning for children, combined with information, advice and support for parents. We know from research that positive learning experiences and family support in the early years provide a strong foundation for children’s futures, and we’re astonished that KCC plan to take these opportunities away from Ramsgate children and their families.
“We do understand that KCC is under great financial pressure, and we call upon the Government to look again at the levels of funding top tier councils receive in the light of their heavy Social Care and other responsibilities. But closing Children’s Centres is a short-sighted move that can only have a negative effect on the lives of young families in Ramsgate and elsewhere.”
There is already a serious under-provision of early childcare places in Ramsgate – around 128 according to KCC’s figures from summer last year – with nearly two-thirds of those places needed for the lowest income families.
KCC’s “Early Years and Childcare Strategy” promises to reduce inequality of provision for the most deprived areas.
Explorers Nursery Manager, Clair Jones, said: “We’re incredibly proud to help families from all backgrounds, and to support children from some of the less-advantaged areas of Ramsgate.
“Sadly, they will be the ones hit hardest by this. It’s hard to overstate the importance of early education in giving children the best life chances possible and their parents the support and time they need to keep working.
“We could, and should, be taking on more children here – not having the building shut down and the rug pulled from under our feet.”
Parent-of-two, Kate Birch, whose daughters attend Explorers agrees: “This nursery has been a real life line for me. Both my girls flourished here – the purpose-built spaces and facilities give them the safe freedom and independence they need, while the professionalism and caring approach of the staff is exceptional.
“I have found a listening ear at times when I have really struggled as a mum. They are always happy to guide me with parenting help and direct me to other support.
“As an isolated and struggling new mum, the nursery being attached to Priory Children’s Centre also made it possible for me to access the support services they offered too with ease.
“The nursery closing would be a disaster for families, of all walks of life.”
The cost-cutting measures that would see the closure of the site are set out by Kent County Council in its public consultation on community services, launched last week.
But shutting down Priory Children’s Centre is unlikely to save KCC money in the long run, argues Kim Hammond, Project Manager for Thanet Early Years – the charity which runs Explorers Nursery.
She said: “I totally understand the need to cut costs, but I’m sceptical about the financial sense of these proposals.
“The nursery pays rent to KCC for this space at the children’s centre. Far from being a loss, we’re actually revenue-making for the council.
“I’m not sure the numbers add up. And that’s before you factor in the costs of moving existing council services, such a mother and baby healthcare, to a new site and all the upfront expense it takes to make those sites suitable.
“But of course, it’s not just about the money. Explorers is about putting families first.
“If the site closes and we’re forced out, we just won’t reach those families anymore.”
Callis Grange Children’s Centre in Broadstairs is also under threat. A petition to save that centre can be found at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-callis-grange-children-s-centre-from-closure
The proposals that affect Thanet are:
Shutting Callis Grange Children’s Centre with people directed to use Six Bells centre in Margate instead. For health visiting services people would need to go to the remaining children’s centres or use outreach services.
Shutting Priory Children’s Centre with alternatives of using a new proposed Community Hub at Ramsgate Library or going to Newlands Children’s Centre or Six Bells Children’s Centre.
Shutting services for adults with a learning disability currently held at Hartsdown Leisure Centre with nearest alternatives to be proposed hubs at Broadstairs and Cliftonville libraries or using Minnis Day Centre.
The closure of services at Broadstairs Adult Education Centre which will be relocated to Broadstairs library.
There will be community hub services running at some Thanet libraries.
Ramsgate Library – Family Hub, Library and Gateway
Cliftonville Library – Community Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities, Gateway and Library
Broadstairs Library – Community Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities, Library and Community Learning and Skills.
You can learn more about proposed changes www.kent.gov.uk/communityservicesconsultation
Views can be submitted from now until March 26.
People can also attend drop-in events
Monday 30 January 10am-1pm Margate Library, Cecil Street, Margate
Monday 20 February 4-8pm Six Bells Family Centre, 201 High Street, Margate
Callis Grange and Priory children’s centres among Thanet sites earmarked for closure in KCC ‘community services’ overhaul
Proposed closure of Priory Children’s Centre in Ramsgate will mean loss of popular Explorers Nursery
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Petition launched and mayor and councillors join the fight to save Explorers Nursery in Ramsgate
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