Parents, educators and carers of children at a central Brixton nursery have launched a campaign to save it after Lambeth council refused to renew the lease on its premises.
The Corry Drive nursery on the Moorlands estate behind the Barrier Block is run by Chestnut nurseries which has about a dozen nurseries in London, Norwich and Cambridger.
A council spokesperson said: “The current private operator has allowed the nursery to remain in a state of disrepair, despite getting significant funding for maintenance from the council at the start of their lease.
“That lease is now expiring and as a result of their failure to maintain the property as per the original agreement a new lease will not be offered to the operator.
“The council will work with the community and other nursery operators in the area on ensuring all children have suitable nursery places in the area.
“The building itself will either be offered to a new nursery operator or used for other council-run children’s services provision.”
The nursery was told over the February half term week that it must leave by the end of this month, which the campaigners say is much too short notice.
Nadine Robinson, manager of the nursery, which has 66 places, said it had been on the Moorlands estate since 2013.
“I don’t think Lambeth have considered the consequences of the decision they’ve made,” she said.
“Sending a notification of this kind during a school holiday whilst many Lambeth staff were on leave and unable to respond to our queries on the matter and in the midst of a pandemic without any thought of the impact such a harsh, yet rushed decision would have on the local community beggars belief.”
“Our lease has not been breached, despite what Lambeth are saying and, as usual, they are doing all they can to cut corners and avoid making contact with us,” said Robinson.
She said closure would impact 62 families and 66 children, make 15 staff members who are local residents unemployed, affect 21 essential keyworkers, and three vulnerable children.
“There are 13 children in receipt of 30 hours of assisted nursery care and 22 children in receipt of 15 hours assisted nursery care,” said Robinson.
“Our setting houses at least 21 different nationalities and serves external community projects such as housing weekly speech and language sessions [for parents] with Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP).
“We offered this space at the nursery due to the closure of so many children’s centres, leaving vital resources inaccessible to families in need.
“We have remained open throughout the pandemic with the exception of two months during the first lockdown in March 2020.
“Our nursery is one of very few affordable childcare providers in the local area.”
Robinson said councils have a duty to consult before doing something like closing a nursery.
“They should also complete an equality impact assessment. This has not happened in this instance, as there has been no consultation with parents to my knowledge.
“The nursery is continuously inundated with new families needing nursery spaces, not to mention our baby wait list which has had continuous movement for as long as we have been open.
“The need for a nursery in this location is paramount. The loss of this valuable resource would be devastating to this community.”
Parents are petitioning local councillors to overturn what they describe as the council’s “inexplicable, ill-timed and callous” decision.
One of them, single mother Hazel, who has a two-and-half year-old son and works for a charity, says the council has put her livelihood at risk.
“If I can’t find somewhere, I will not have the ability to work. It’s catastrophic,” she said.
Shona, a key worker, has a four-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy for whom the nursery’s staff provide specialist care, allowing Shona to work in a nearby secondary school. “I don’t think I would get that care for her anywhere else,” Shona said.
Social worker Chanel sent her three-year-old to Chestnut after his older sister was one of its first intake when it was set up. Most of the original staff from 2013 are still there.
Chanel says the nursery is “the hub of the community”. She loves the care her son receives, but “number one for us is the affordability”.
The campaigners said that the Chestnut nursery is one of the few affordable ones in the Brixton area.
Their petition to councillors points out that the average take-home monthly pay for a London family is £1,937.
A full-time place at Corry Drive is £1,100 per month, “already barely affordable for the average family,” the campaigners say.
“Compared to the next cheapest option (£1260 per month), Corry Drive saves families 13% per month.
“Over the course of a year, a family sending their child to Corry Drive full-time will save over £2,000.
“The difference for other options could be up to £10,500 annually.”
Their petition lists comparable days rates for other local nurseries:
- Corry Drive, SW2, £53
- N Family Club, SW2, Under three: £92.50 / Over three: £82.50
- Lily’s Kids Club, SW2, £60
- Armadillos, SE5, £80
The campaigners also point out that Corry Drive is open until 6.30pm, while most close at 6pm. “In some cases, such as single-parent households, that 30 minutes makes it possible to maintain a full-time job”.
They said a “heartless” council had “shown disdain for parents who are priced out of alternative nurseries, and for their children, who need stability and benefit from Chestnut’s nurturing environment.”
Local MP Helen Hayes is to hold a Zoom meeting with parents.
Campaigners said the Chestnut’s head office is taking legal action against the council.
The campaigners say the nursery sits at the centre of a diverse community, bringing around children from all backgrounds together in an extended family.
The nursery already has a waiting list of up to a year, and now, say campaigners, parents face an “agonising search” for new childcare.
The Blog has approached the Chestnut organisation for comment, but has yet to hear from it.