Diane Abbott visited a Hackney children's centre at risk of closing down, to listen to parents' concerns about losing community spaces.

At Fernbank Children's Centre in Stoke Newington, Ms Abbott said she would raise the matter again with the Mayor of Hackney after hearing parents speak about the two centres, Fernbank and Hillside, and their fight to keep the council-run early years services open.

The Hackney MP said: “I was very impressed by the wonderful facilities at Fernbank and the devotion of the staff. And I was deeply moved.

"Children deserve a high-quality nursery like Fernbank. Councillors should scrap the decision to close Fernbank. They should not be saving money at the expense of children.”

The consultation on the closures ends today (November 16). It explains how shutting down the centres would allow the council to "make savings and changes to protect services for young children into the future".

%image(15007860, type="article-full", alt="Ms Abbott said she was impressed by the facilities at Fernbank Children's Centre when she visited")

Cllr Caroline Woodley, portfolio holder for families and early years said, explained the move when the consultation launched on September 17.

She said: "We have one of the highest numbers of children's centres of any London borough.

"Closing any of them is not something we want to do. However, this will allow us to focus our limited resources to ensure they have the biggest impact on those who need them most."

But one parent said Hackney would be losing a "gem" if Fernbank closed.

Lei Yang, whose two children attended the centre a few years ago, said closing Fernbank would be destroying a whole community.

"Before the pandemic, they always had gatherings like Macmillan cake mornings, Black history day, Diwali and Father Christmas.

"All the parents could come in and we met and made lots of friends at the centre. It was our social life."

%image(15007861, type="article-full", alt="The centres are much-loved by parents with one describing Fernbank as a "gem"")

Lei described the support and security the centre's "deeply caring" staff provided when she was diagnosed with cancer.

She said: "I went through the whole process of chemo radio and the surgery.

"My life totally went upside down. That was when my second child was five months old.

"I had to stop breastfeeding immediately and go through the treatment but throughout that time the centre gave me so much support."

"That’s my deepest gratitude."

%image(15007862, type="article-full", alt="The campaign to keep the centres open has seen support from the Hackney MP, councillors and both Hackney CLPs.")

The mother-of-two praised the teaching which includes potty training, as taking "so much pressure off working parents".

The parents' campaign to keep the centres open has received more than one thousand signatures online, as well as support from Hackney's Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and councillors Simche Steinberger and Benzion Papier.

Meanwhile, the council has stated that there is a 23 per cent vacancy rate in early years settings across the borough, representing a "London-wide trend of falling reception class rolls".

"This means some centres are no longer viable in the current financial climate," the council's consultation reads.

But parents dispute the claim.

One parent, Antonia Harland-Lang, said when she initially applied to get her son into childcare just after he was born she could not get a place at Hillside.

"And there was no other childcare where we were living in Stamford Hill other than a childminder so we went with that in the end."

She said private nurseries in Stoke Newington are unaffordable for many and could mean paying about £400 a month more than council-run services.

Parents also allege the lower vacancy rate stated in the consultation was a result of parents being advised the keep their children out of nursery sometimes to limit the spread of Covid.

The consultation also states that there three other centres within a short walking distance of each other.

However, UNISON spokesperson Brian Debus said: "My understanding is one of them primarily serves the Jewish community and the other the Muslim community. So the only secular centre that’s left will probably be really over subscribed – it just doesn’t add up."

Brian says UNISON members from the centres are prepared to go for strike action and served a notice to Hackney Council on November 15.

The decision on whether to strike will be made on December 10 before the council's cabinet meets on December 13 to make a decision.

Brian said: "Our view they should not proceed they should stop it and do alternatives – they say they have no options but we say there is always an option or plan B."

To comment on the council's consultation visit news.hackney.gov.uk/consultation-on-the-closure-of-two-childrens-centres

To sign the parents' petition click here