As families, staff and supporters of Merrishaw Nursery in West Heath attended what will probably be their last open day yesterday, they were hoping to hear that the imminent closure of the facility had been postponed.
The Merrishaw parents, supported by Stirchley and Cotteridge Against the Cuts, had issued an invitation to local politicians to attend their open day yesterday. They were disappointed that only one local councillor showed up to listen to their concerns and offer his support.
MP Richard Burden, who was unable to attend yesterday due to being on holiday, has supported the campaign to date and wrote a detailed letter expressing his concerns to relevant council officials last week.
Parents and campaigners were disappointed that Councillor Randall Brew, who said he would propose a postponement to the closure after parents spoke to him following their protest walk in July, did not attend their open day to offer feedback. They were most disappointed that Les Lawrence, Northfield councillor and cabinet member for Children, Young People and Families, did not attend.
All community day nurseries in the city are either being closed or attached to existing Childrens’ Centres. Mowbray Day Nursery in Frankley was closed in July.
The main concern is that none of the service users feels that they were properly consulted about the closure of the Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rated day nursery. Parent Vanessa Godsill told me that parents were invited to a meeting in June with a representative from Birmingham City Council’s Children, Young People and Families where they were told that Community Day Nursery services were being reviewed and asked to complete questionnaires on the service Merrishaw offered. She says there was no mention that closure of their nursery was being considered, yet just over a week later, parents received letters stating that it had been earmarked for closure.
Parents also have a number of other concerns. Local educational nursery facilities are full, with waiting lists of up to two years. Some children have been offered places in nurseries some miles away, such as in Stirchley. Parents of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are concerned that private nurseries will not be able to meet their needs as well as Merrishaw has. Others, hoping to return to work are concerned that they may only be able to get term time nursery care and this will make working more difficult.
Northfield Councillor Reg Corns, who was originally involved in the establishment of the nursery around 20 years ago, spoke at length to the nursery manager and parents and listened to all their concerns. He acknowledged that he did have a number of concerns regarding the closure and the degree of consultation that had been carried out. He stated that, despite the limited time available, he will take his own and parents’ concerns back to senior staff at BCC’s Children, Young People and Families department. He expressed a concern especially for the welfare of vulnerable and SEN children at the nursery.
You can hear Cllr Corns addressing parents and supporters below (sound quality poor, sorry!)
Winnie Flanagan, Labour’s council candidate for Northfield in 2010, was there to support the campaign. She told us that she understood that the centre had been open for 26 years and had a wide range of clients and and excellent Ofsted report. She said it would be “very sad that it should end.” She added that she understood that there were moves being made for greater review and that she hopes they are successful.
We have contacted Councillor Les Lawrence for a statement and will update this article if and when we receive one.
The Merrishaw parents have conducted an active and passionate campaign to try and save their nursery. We wish them luck.
Letter from Richard Burden MP to council officials 16th August 2011