The importance of children's centres, Aylesbury Vale mums speak out

Nicola Lansdown and Lexi
Nicola Lansdown and Lexi

Brave mothers from around Aylesbury who use the Buckinghamshire children's centres have shared their stories of how these services have helped them get through tough times as parents.

The campaigners have fought a long and hard battle to get their voices heard, after Bucks County Council earmarked 19 centres for closure across the county.

The campaigners' case will now be heard on July 2 and 3, where they maintain that the council's decision to close 19 of Buckinghamshire's 35 children's centres was unlawful because of the lack of consultation with residents.

The campaigners were represented by barrister Stephen Broach, who put forward the argument that the council's consultation process was 'unlawful'.

The argument revolves around the council's consultation process. Parents were presented with three choices in the consultation, but no option that would allow services to continue as they were.

Thank you to all the mums who came forward to share their stories.

Nicola Lansdown, who uses the Aylesbury Southcourt children's centre that helped her after she suffered a stroke in 2016.

She says:

"I use the Children's Centre at Spurgeons, Aylesbury in Southcourt.

"Prior to the birth of my daughter, I had a stroke two days before she was born in May 2016.

"Sam, the Family Support worker has really helped my confidence.

I go on a Friday morning with a Barnado's support four parents volunteer, as I'm in a wheelchair.

"I was in hospital for eight months, so I missed a lot chances to see my daughter to go groups e.g. swimming, toddler groups, children's centre.

"Also, they really helped me bond with my daughter, Lexi.

"I don't want my local Children’s Centre to close as it's my chance to play with my daughter, to watch her to do messy play, sing songs, and play outside.

"All the staff are friendly and knowledgeable in everything child related. It's a vital service we can't afford to lose."

April Denning, who uses the Aylesbury centre says the staff helped her to come back to life after being crippled by post-natal depression.

She says:

"On the September 21 2013 I had my first baby.

"The joys of motherhood were majorly suppressed by what is called post natal depression.

"The depression got so bad I couldn't leave the house and I believed I didn't love my daughter. This is one of the worst things a new mother can experience.

"I was in a bad place and between the doctors and my health visitor I got referred to somebody who works for Barnardo's (at that point was under Barnardo’s).

"They took me to a children's centre when my daughter was about four months old, the staff there were amazing.

"They would take my daughter when she was screaming and I couldn't cope anymore. They would help me to learn and to interact with my baby.

"They did such amazing things that I couldn't have accomplished had they not been there.

"I loved it so much I went every week, I found a timetable and I went to children centres from Wendover, to Prestwood, Buckingham Park to Elmhurst and so many more.

"The timetable kept me busy. It kept me looking forward to something every day.

"I went from wishing away every second with my baby to having something to hold onto. My daughter is now five and is thriving.

"Even though I don't use them now as my daughter is now at school etc I honestly don't think I would have got by without them in my most darkest and vulnerable time with my daughter.

"I will never forget the staff, I will treasure them forever.

"If these centres close, I fear for the mums like me who need the support and the services .

"We live in a country where we are so grateful and lucky to have these kind of services and it makes me feel so sad and sick to the stomach that these valuable things are considered not needed or not important anymore.

"There's the generation growing up that face having no children centres and even though they don't know it now they will all be behind me if they had the experience and the knowledge to know what mums like me know.

"I don't want to know how life changing losing these centres could be for those who rely on them. I honestly don't think I could have another baby if there wasn't services like this out there."

Terri Steele, who uses the Aylesbury children’s centre says they helped her manage the isolation and loneliness of being a new parent

Terri said:

"As an aside, before having my baby I worked as a developmental play specialist with children with disabilities, often running sessions in children's centres.

"I have seen first-hand, time and time again positive stories of how early intervention and a sense of community, focus and support has been instrumental in making a change for vulnerable families who's outcomes could have been very different.

"My daughter is 18 months-old. We attend playtime at both Bearbrook and Elmhurst.

Terry described some of the benefits to herself and her daughter:

-A safe place to play, experiment, and experience a range of play opportunities where she has the choice to play independently whilst having the reassurance that mum's there too

-A sense of structure which I believe has been instrumental in a smooth, stress free transition to nursery

-Conversations with other adults!! There are days when THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN. I am about to have another baby and am genuinely worried that I might have this precious time to speak to other grown ups taken away.

-A non judgemental space to ask questions and discuss worries and share ideas TOGETHER and in an informal setting.

"If the centres weren't there I'd have to work so much harder to find those things, and as a parent when you're juggling a billion things, that can feel impossible and may just not happen which means we both lose out.

"A couple of hours a week where you know you daughter will be stimulated and you know you will have people to talk to might not seem like much but there's been weeks and days where that time has meant everything.

"There's too much isolation and loneliness in this world already and by closing children's centres we're just inviting more.

"As well as poorer outcomes for young children which in turn will have continue to impact them as they grow and eventually society will suffer. Start at the roots, build strong foundations! Without strong foundations we have nothing."

Zoe Clark, who uses Elmhurst children’s centre said the centres helped her as she was diagnosed with cancer to manage her life and treatment

Zoe said:

"I used the children’s centres a lot when I had my son and daughter.

"I met local mums and made new friends, arranged play dates, discussed any baby worries with the professionals and got me out of the house during some of the loneliest times after having a baby and the initial friends visits wear off.

"I had no family nearby so it was a lifeline and became part of my weekly routine. I also still see the nursery nurse around and we still chat. My son is 7!

"I had cancer of the parotid gland whilst pregnant with my daughter in 2012. Having a regular place to go helped after op and radiotherapy that I could take my new baby and my then 2.5 year old.

"I met up with other mums and it was useful just being in a building where my children could play safely. It was also a time where my finances went up the spout. So it was a free resource I definitely needed.

"I am a reception lead teacher and we have only just recently found out all of the benefits of the centres to support early speech and language at pre-school up to four years old."

Joanna-Ahsan-Farrer who uses the centre in Broughton says that the centres helped her get through the trauma of post-natal depression, and provided invaluable support to her as she rebuilt her mental health

"The children's centres are an invaluable resource to the local area. When I had my daughter in 2012 I suffered with postnatal depression.

"I was encouraged to join groups but found them cliquey.

"Someone mentioned the children’s centres. The staff were so welcoming and made sure I was included, it became my safe haven. I toured all centres in the area to attend various groups and found them all well equipped, educational and inclusive.

"In 2014 we had our son and I suffered from post natal depression again. It was apparent to me that he wasn't developing at the correct rate but the GP and health visitor wouldn't listen to me. One day I attended a music group elsewhere and my son was with lots of his peers and his differences were very noticeable.

"I went straight to the health visitors session held at my local children's centre and was again assured he was young and would develop and catch up in his own time. I was distraught as I felt no-one was listening.

"They immediately went and got a children's support worker as they said maybe I was feeling down and needed someone to talk to. This was a pinnacle turning point for us. Wendy Stanley (the family support worker), I'm sure she won't mind me mentioning her name, met me in 2012 and knew me and my children very well from me attending so many different groups at the centres.

"Wendy, the social worker assigned to me instantly became my salvation.

"She got us various referrals to medical professionals and came with me to some appointments to support me.

"She visited me every week at home and helped me bond with my son through play. She insisted that I was appointed a health visitor to support us too.

"She started a learning journal for my son and chartered his development at groups. She was amazing and got me out of the dark hole I was in and really supported me in getting the right help and support for my son, who was later diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder and global developmental delay.

"Without Wendy's help we would have got there eventually with the medical professionals but having her, acting as a professional on our behalf truly helped us get the early medical intervention our son needed just because it was one professional talking to another.

"I can't believe the plan to the centres. I was at rock bottom when appointed to Wendy and without her it would have been a very bleak time for much longer than it was.

"She provided us with consistency, support and invaluable play opportunities for my children. She made sure we were supported as a family. So many families go unnoticed already with difficulties, closing the children’s centres means so many more are going to be missed."