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UPDATED: Campaign launched to 'Save Suffolk’s Children’s Centres' after closure threat

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Campaigners against the potential closure of some Suffolk children’s centres have launched a petition calling for the “vital” services to be kept.

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin, Labour group councillors and parents gathered outside Hillside Children’s Centre in Ipswich to formally launch the Save Suffolk’s Children’s Centres campaign and petition.

The campaign was launched just days after it emerged that a cross-party task force at the council that had been working since February was considering a range of options for the future of children’s centres – with one of the options including the closure of as many as half of the county’s 38 centres.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (8604044)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (8604044)

Stacey Flores, who used the service with her daughter Willow, three, said: “It was invaluable, it was great to be able to get out of the house, socialise. She got to play with other children the same age.

“It’s a reason to get dressed and out of the house that week.”

She added: “We have already had closures – how long is it going to take until we haven’t got any?

“I definitely think that is a service we need, it wouldn’t be there unless we needed it in the first place.”

Fellow parent Shelly Darwin, added: “They are so vital. They are under review and what is under review is our children’s futures. That’s how important they are.”

Children’s centres offer a range of services including play sessions, advice and support groups, health checks and signposting to other services.

Opposition groups at the county council last week opted to walk away from the policy development panel (PDP) because they felt it was increasingly becoming about closing centres in a bid to save money.

In 2014 and 2015, nine centres in Suffolk were closed, which prompted a wave of public anger and campaigning.

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin, who was a county councillor under the previous cuts, said: “We warned them at the time this would have a really bad impact on families, they didn’t pay any attention, they closed a lot of centres and reduced a lot of services available in the centres we have got, and lo and behold it did have an impact.

“The whole purpose of children’s centres when they were set up was to redress the balance between families who were possibly a bit more affluent and had the ability to pay for outside help, and those families that really needed the help most weren’t necessarily able to get it.”

To see the petition, visit https://www.ipswich-labour.org.uk/save_suffolk_s_children_s_centres