At last week’s Council meeting, a petition was presented by nearly 3,000 residents asking for a review of the Council’s decision to close some of the local Sure Start Children’s Centres.
Unfortunately, Councillors were forbidden from speaking and no debate took place due to a change in the Council rules. I found this unacceptable and undemocratic of our Labour-controlled Council.
The petition was put to a vote but the Labour Councillors present, including Ramsbottom’s Labour Councillor – Luise Fitzwalter – voted to ignore the petition and continue with the plan to close Ramsbottom’s Children’s Centre.
Cllr Rob Hodkinson and I voted to review the decision but we were voted down. As you will recall, both Cllr Hodkinson and I undertook a survey of 2,500 homes and overwhelmingly, parents were opposed to closure. Parents tell us that they need a Centre which offers them support, comfort, a place to meet other parents, access to services and facilities.
I recall that Ramsbottom’s Children Centre was a floating service having been incepted by the then Conservative-controlled Council in the summer of 2008. The co-ordinator was based at Ramsbottom Library, as Bury Council could not find it a suitable home.
My predecessor, Cllr Diana Ashworth, a Conservative Councillor for Ramsbottom and who was Bury Council’s Children’s Cabinet Member at the time had a long-standing commitment to building a dedicated children’s centre in Ramsbottom.
She brought forward proposals to transform the old Ramsbottom Heritage Centre on Carr Street, into a permanent Children’s Centre. That building was in a poor state of repair, so it was demolished and a new one was erected in its place.
Unfortunately, Diana retired from the Council in May 2010. In her place, I was honoured to have opened the new building in 2011 after my election to the Council in 2010. I was rightly proud that a Conservative Council had established a Children’s Centre right here in Ramsbottom.
The Children’s Centre went from strength to strength. It was a tribute to the hardworking staff involved that it was classified as Good with some outstanding features by Ofsted who confirmed that the “care, guidance and support offered to families are outstanding”.
The centre has been serving children from birth to five years and their families since then (there are over 800 families in Ramsbottom with children under five). It offers family support and early learning services.
The centre has a range of activities that offer an opportunity for babies and children to be active. These include ‘Wellies and Worms’ [which my son thoroughly enjoyed], walks for families in the local park, ‘Tiddlers’ swimming and ‘Baby Moves’, an active session for babies. Provision of ante- and postnatal support, a drop-in breastfeeding clinic, and support for women suffering from postnatal depression became invaluable to local parents. The activities include a Saturday morning dads’ group.
There have been strong links with health partners, the local registrar, housing and other statutory agencies.
I am right disappointed that our Labour-controlled Council is withdrawing from the Children’s Centre. We will see outreach workers appointed to concentrate on those families that are “most in need”. Some of the services will remain and discussions are in place with Ramsbottom Library.
We are working with our local churches and voluntary bodies to see if alternative provision can be arranged for many of the other services, as many already offer support to parents with several toddlers groups already in existence.